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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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Merci, Boris
By US56 on 8/18/2008 8:55:23 PM , Rating: 2
The situation would have been much worse in another year or two. Thankfully, Boris & friends showed their hand and the situation is not unrecoverable. It never made sense for the U.S. to have no manned space capability for more than five years between the planned retirement of the Shuttle system and the initial Orion launch. The retirement of the Shuttle was strictly a budgetary decision to shift funding to Ares/Orion without a politically difficult increase in the overall level of NASA funding during a period of heavy deficit spending in time of war very reminiscent of the premature ending of the Apollo Program. The surviving orbiters are the newer ones and all have been upgraded to the latest spec or close to it. The original design service life of the Shuttle system was 20 years. That was based on a much higher launch rate so presumably the number of launch cycles for all orbiters is well below the original projected service life. The presumption always was that a replacement for the Shuttle, generally assumed to be an SSTO vehicle and not a great leap backward, would be developed concurrently with Shuttle operations and there would have been no gap in manned space capability. Obviously, that didn't happen despite some interesting efforts. The "space gap" was a result of a quickly devised plan by the former NASA administrator to provide something to address "the vision thing" during the last presidential campaign cycle. Given the new reality, it seems unlikely that plan will prevail. As for the future of the ISS, aka Goldinmir, that will be interesting.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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