Congress Clears NASA to Purchase Russian Spacecraft

WASHINGTON- The U.S. Senate has approved amendments to the Iran Nonproliferation Act(INA), clearing the way for NASA to pay for Russian launches and spacecraft tosupport the International Space Station.

The bill wasapproved late Nov 8 by unanimous consent, meaning it was not subject to a floorvote because no senators objected to its passage. The House passed the samebill Oct. 26.

"NASAappreciates the efforts of Congress to resolve restrictions placed on ourpartnership with Russia," NASA chief Michael Griffin said in a statement. "Congress'action helps to ensure the continuous presence of U.S. astronauts on theInternational Space Station."

The IranNonproliferation Act of 2000 bars U.S. purchases of Russian human spaceflighthardware as long as Russia continues to help Iran in its pursuit of nuclearknow-how and advanced weapons technology. The Senate approvedthe House version of the bill, which allows NASA to buy Russian space hardwareor services until 2012. The amendment also adds non-space related restrictionson U.S. dealings with Syria to the INA.

"Thelegislation passed by Congress reflects the U.S. government's continuingcommitment to nonproliferation objectives but also recognizes the value ofinternational cooperation in space exploration," Griffin said.

Withoutrelief from the INA, NASA would have found itself unable to send its astronautsto the space station for extended stays. A Soyuz capsule that carried a two-personcrew -- and space passenger GregoryOlsen -- to the space station Sept.30 was the last one Russia was obligated to provide at no charge to theUnited States under a bilateral agreement.

NASA andthe U.S. State Department formally asked Congress in June to amend the INA topermit the United States to make use of Russian space technology in its spaceexploration plans. The bill now goes to the White House for President George W.Bush's signature.

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Colin Clark
Contributing Writer

Colin Clark, the founding editor of Breaking Defense, also started, the world’s first all-online defense news website, He covered Congress, intelligence and regulatory affairs for Space News; founded and edited the Washington Aerospace Briefing, a newsletter for the space industry; covered national security issues for Congressional Quarterly; and was editor of Defense News. Colin, an avid fisherman, grill genius and wine drinker, lives in his native Washington, D.C. but will eventually be relocating to Australia where he will report on Asia and Pacific defense matters for Breaking Defense.