Senate Clears NASA to Buy Russian Spaceships

WASHINGTON-- The U.S. Senate approved Sept. 21 a bill that would clear the way for NASA tobuy the Russian Soyuz vehicles it needs to continue to occupy the InternationalSpace Station beyond this year.

The billwas introduced Sept. 15 by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman RichardLugar (R-Ind.) to provide temporary relief from provisions in the IranNonproliferation Act of 2000 that bar U.S. purchases of Russian humanspaceflight hardware as long as Russia continues to help Iran in its pursuit ofnuclear know-how and advanced weapons technology.

Lugar'sbill, S. 1713, changes the law to permit NASA to buy any Russian space hardwareor services it needs for the International Space Station program until 2012.

The billwas approved the morning of Sept. 21 by unanimous consent, a Senate procedurethat allows non-controversial legislation to bypass a floor vote.

The U.S.House of Representatives also is considering amending the Iran NonproliferationAct to permit NASA to buy Soyuz vehicles, but it has yet to take anylegislative action.

The Housecould either pick up and pass the Senate's bill or introduce a bill of its ownthat would have to be reconciled with the Senate version before becoming law.

Withoutrelief from the Iran act, NASA could soon find itself unable to send itsastronauts to the space station for extended stays. A Soyuz capsule set to carry anew two-personcrew - and one space tourist - to the station Sept. 30 is the last one Russiais obligated to provide at no charge to the United States under a bilateralagreement.

NASA andthe U.S. State Department formally asked Congress in June to amend the Iran actto permit the United States to make use of Russian space technology in itsspace exploration plans.

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