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The U.S. government must now decide whether it will overlook Russia's skirmishes with Georgia

Even though Russia and Georgia have officially signed a cease-fire agreement, the volatile situation between the two nations could jeopardize whether or not NASA astronauts fly to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft in the future, U.S. officials warn.

NASA will be forced to rely on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft and transport supplies from Earth to the space station once the shuttle is retired in 2010.  The next-generation Orion spacecraft is not expected to be done until 2015, at the earliest, NASA previously said.

"The new challenge we have is that for approximately five years, the plan — which is a very bad plan but is the only plan that NASA and the administration and Congress have approved — is to be dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle to get people to and from the international space station," said Tom Feeney, (R-FL).  "And so now, with the political realities with Russia invading Georgia, we have a new wrinkle thrown in."

Furthermore, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D, FL) also said the situation between Russia and Georgia could greatly impact the space cooperation between the United States and Russia.  Without the use of Russian spacecraft after the shuttle is retired, NASA astronauts will be unable to get to the ISS to help finish its construction.

Nelson also pointed out that a U.S. law signed in 2000 directly prohibits the government from entering contracts with any nation that gave assistance to North Korea and/or Iran with any nuclear programs -- Russia has helped the nations with their nuclear programs.  Congress must now either reauthorize the waiver so a transportation agreement can be made, or will uphold the 2000 law and not work with Russia.

So far, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has supported the waiver, though it must now pass the House, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate.  

The French-brokered cease-fire that has been signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili forces both sides to return their troops to their original locations prior to the skirmishes.  But even with an agreement in place, tensions between the United States and Russia, the two largest contributors to the ISS, remain high.

The U.S. government must now try and determine whether or not it will move forward and pay millions to the Russian government for ferrying astronauts into space, or delay the looming retirement of the space shuttle fleet a few more years.





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