Russia hopes to fill the gap in space travel

Members of an international space crew, U.S. astronaut Ron Garan (R), Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyayev (C) and Andrei Borisenko (L) pose during the space suit testing prior to blast off to the International Space Station (ISS) from Russian leased Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome on April 5, 2011 aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-21 rocket.

Steve Chiotakis: The Space Shuttle Atlantis is expected back on Earth tomorrow. And that touchdown will mark the beginning of a new arrangement with Russia to get American astronauts to the International Space Station. That reliance means more than a billion dollars for Russia's space industry.

From Moscow, here's reporter Peter van Dyk.


Peter van Dyk: Instead of touching down gracefully on home soil, NASA astronauts will now land with a bump in a Soyuz capsule. Russia's space agency is contracted to take astronauts to the space station through 2016. By then, one ticket will cost NASA $63 million. Russia has lots of plans for the money.

Anatoly Zak: There are a number of new projects in manned spaceflight which had been started in previous three, four years, and those projects, they absolutely need a lot of funding.

Anatoly Zak is a journalist who runs the website RussianSpaceWeb. While U.S. companies race to replace the shuttle, he says Russia must develop better spacecraft, too.

Zak: Russian space industry absolutely needs to develop also a new spacecraft that will match or exceed the capabilities of the new generation of the U.S. or whoever comes online.

That won't be easy. The Soyuz rocket has not changed fundamentally since the 1960s. Former cosmonaut Georgy Grechko says it's time to move on.

Georgy Grechko: I remember Khrushchev's expression, that we make rockets like sausages. But if you eat even the best German sausages for 30 years, you get sick of them. We need to do something new.

The Soviets made -- and ate -- a lot of sausages. But you didn't eat them if you could afford better. Fifty years after Yury Gagarin's historic first flight, Russia's space industry has a chance to dine again at the top table.

In Moscow, I'm Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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