Russian Invasion of Georgia Imperils U.S. Access to Space Station

By Eliza Strickland | August 14, 2008 10:06 am

International Space StationIn a strange side effect of Russia’s invasion of Georgia this weekend, the U.S. may lose access to Russia’s Soyuz spacecrafts that were expected to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station after the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010. Florida Senator Bill Nelson says that because of Russia’s new aggression, the U.S. Congress may refuse to pass an exemption required to let NASA buy services from Russia.

Under a law known as the Iran Non-Proliferation Act, the United States is banned from buying space technology from Russia unless the president determines Russia is taking steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology to Iran. Congress waived the ban in 2005, allowing NASA to enter into a $719 million contract with the Russians for use of the Soyuz through 2011 [CNN]. But an extension of the waiver needs to be passed to guarantee access to the Space Station after 2011.

With the space shuttle’s replacement not scheduled to fly until 2015, the U.S. will be dependent on Russia to ferry astronauts to the space station for at least five years. Under international agreements that created the station, NASA also needs the Soyuz to meet its obligation to provide enough lifeboats for the station’s American and international crew in case of emergency [Orlando Sentinel]. NASA had hoped to narrow the five-year gap by accelerating the development of the space shuttle’s replacement, the Orion spacecraft, but earlier this week NASA announced that a faster deployment wouldn’t be possible. Another alternative, encouraging private space companies to develop rockets that can ferry cargo and crew, encountered a setback earlier this month when the company SpaceX failed to send a rocket to orbit on its third try.

Senator Nelson says the waiver will face serious opposition in Congress, especially during an election year. “It was a tough sell before, but it was doable simply because we didn’t have a choice. We don’t want to deny ourselves access to the space station, the very place we have built and paid,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be a tougher sell now unless there are critical developments during the next 48 to 72 hours” [Florida Today]. Meanwhile, a senior House Republican staffer said the waiver is “dead on arrival. Nobody thinks it’s going to happen, and the reality is there is no back-up plan for the space station” [Orlando Sentinel].

Image: NASA

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  • Fred, Wisconsin, USA

    It’s a sad day for NASA and the world, but it’s time to bite the bullet: let’s cut our losses by backing out of the ISS project now. Set the shuttle on two final missions, the Hubble upgrade and get our last astronaut down from the ISS, and then, cancel the shuttle too. Forget sending up the rest of the ISS…it’s no longer our problem because we didn’t invade Georgia. Then, we can start anew with a fresh manned program if we so desire, with zero dependencies on unreliable foreign partners and with our national pride restored. Yes, we will lose a hundred billion dollars invested, but it will be worse if we continue to rely on the Russians in space…they will pull the rug out eventually anyhow!

  • David

    Fred said it so right. one cannot depend on another country for vital goods and services. That’s why other countries around the world should stop being dependent on the U.S. In fact, Asian countries led by China, Japan and India should start developing their own airplanes so they don’t have to buy from Boeing (or even from the European Airbus). They should also have a closed Asian banking system so that they will not be contaminated by the subprime losses of American banks. And they should have their own entertainment empire, too. Just imagine if Disney refuses to let them watch their shows! What will the Asians do? Blank TV screens?

  • r rox

    Some important points…
    “David Says…”
    (1) CHina, Japan .. should start developing their own airplanes…
    They already have. FI-X next generation fighter to replace the F-15J.

    (2) “THey should have a closed Asian Banking system…”
    They already have…

    Stock putrchases, and bank access are limited via nationality constraints. Is a very complicated issue…

    (3) “THey should have their own entertainment empire too…”
    THey already have…

    So many links, this is really enormous issue. Is far larger than anything in the USA. Really.

  • dirk alan

    better still permanent crew. two americans one russkie. 5 year mission. thats a mars mission practice. cargo resupply reboost. where do i sign up

  • Super Dad

    No, no, no, enough of this bickering. This problem is what it is. The BIGGEST FAULT on our side of the matter is that Congress and NASA didn’t get their you know what together leaving us without a space ship for five (5) whole years. And, then some TRAITOROUS individual somehow injected and manipulated the U.S.A into thinking we could rely on the Russians to “ferry” us to the ISS during our down time. What a bunch of crock!


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