MOSCOW Russia will charge U.S. astronauts $51 million per return trip to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2012 and will resume selling seats to space tourists, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday.
NASA needs to use the Russian Soyuz capsule because its own Space Shuttle will be retired next year after nearly 3 decades in service and a replacement is not due until 2014 at the earliest.
Russia's own plans for a new spacecraft are running behind schedule, with the planned unveiling of a mock-up now delayed by a year to 2010, Interfax quoted Anatoly Perminov head of Russian space agency Roskosmos as saying.
"We've agreed with our American partners the sum of $51m, starting in 2012," Perminov was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency.
He did not specify how much astronauts will be charged between 2010 and 2012, but in 2006 Russia charged the United States $21.8 million per return flight to the ISS. Since then the price for of a space tourist ticket to the ISS has climbed to $35 million from $20 million.
Roskosmos earlier said that U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi's March flight to the ISS would be the last by a space tourist as a doubling of the space station crew to six would leave no room for amateurs.
But as Kazakhstan has canceled its plans to send a trained cosmonaut into space this September, the Soyuz now has one free seat, Perminov was quoted as saying. He said the tourist would not be the last.
"This form of tourism will continue," Perminov was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.
NASA and all other partners will be solely dependent on Russia for crew transport after the shuttle ceases operations.
NASA plans to replace the shuttles with Apollo-style capsules that in addition to traveling to the space station will be able to fly astronauts to the moon's surface.
(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Matthew Jones)