WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Mike Griffin asked U.S. lawmakers Feb. 13 to pass legislation this year permitting the U.S. space agency to buy Soyuz flights from Russia beyond 2011 to deliver crews to and from the international space station.
Congress in 2005 granted NASA relief from a non-proliferation law — the Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-Proliferation Act —that bars so-called extraordinary payments to the Russian space agency for goods and services related to human spaceflight, but that waiver expires at the end of 2011.
Appearing before the House Science and Technology Committee to defend the space agency's 2009 budget request, Griffin said he expects NASA will continue to rely on Russian Soyuz capsules beyond 2011 for space station crew transport. Soyuz also serves as the space station's emergency crew lifeboat.
"Thus given existing legislative restrictions we will require explicit authorization by the Congress to make further extraordinary payments to Russia in order to provide crew transport on Soyuz to the station after 2011 for our astronauts as well as for those of our international partners to whom we have obligations," Griffin said. "NASA needs this legislative authorization in 2008 because Russia requires 36-months lead time to fabricate new Soyuz vehicles and thus we need to finalize contractual agreements late this year if we expect to fly in the spring of 2012."
NASA already has signed contracts totaling $780 million for Russian Soyuz capsules and Progress cargo vessels through 2011. That contract will be funded at least in part out of the $2.6 billion NASA has budgeted through 2013 for space station crew and cargo transportation services.
"I would prefer to use as much of that as possible to buy transportation services from American commercial companies rather than foreign entities," Griffin said. "However, while I believe that we will have U.S. commercial cargo transport services over the next few years along with European and Japanese capability, it is my carefully considered assessment that U.S. commercial crew transport vehicles will not likely be available by 2012. The prospective purveyors of such services of course claim otherwise and actually I wish them all possible success. No one hopes more than I that they are right and I am wrong. But our ability to sustain the station cannot be held hostage to hope."
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the committee, told Griffin that Congress would be unlikely to move forward with any requested waiver until it received a formal legislative proposal from the White House.
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