WASHINGTON— NASA Administrator Mike Griffin asked U.S. lawmakers Feb. 13 to pass legislationthis year permitting the U.S. space agency to buy Soyuz flights from Russiabeyond 2011 to deliver crews to and from the international space station.
Congressin 2005 granted NASA relief from a non-proliferation law — the Iran-NorthKorea-Syria Non-Proliferation Act —that bars so-called extraordinary paymentsto the Russian space agency for goods and services related to humanspaceflight, but that waiver expires at the end of 2011.
Appearingbefore the House Science and Technology Committee to defend the space agency's 2009 budgetrequest, Griffin said he expects NASA will continue to rely on RussianSoyuz capsules beyond 2011 for space station crew transport. Soyuz also servesas the space station's emergency crew lifeboat.
"Thusgiven existing legislative restrictions we will require explicit authorizationby the Congress to make further extraordinary payments to Russia in order toprovide crew transport on Soyuz to the station after 2011 for our astronauts aswell as for those of our international partners to whom we haveobligations," Griffin said. "NASA needs this legislativeauthorization in 2008 because Russia requires 36-months lead time to fabricatenew Soyuz vehicles and thus we need to finalize contractual agreements latethis year if we expect to fly in the spring of 2012."
NASAalready has signedcontracts totaling $780 million for Russian Soyuz capsules and Progresscargo vessels through 2011. That contract will be funded at least in part outof the $2.6 billion NASA has budgeted through 2013 for space station crew and cargotransportation services.
"Iwould prefer to use as much of that as possible to buy transportation servicesfrom American commercial companies rather than foreign entities," Griffinsaid. "However, while I believe that we will have U.S. commercial cargotransport services over the next few years along with European and Japanesecapability, it is my carefully considered assessment that U.S. commercial crewtransport vehicles will not likely be available by 2012. The prospectivepurveyors of such services of course claim otherwise and actually I wish themall possible success. No one hopes more than I that they are right and I amwrong. But our ability to sustain the station cannot be held hostage tohope."
Rep.Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the committee, told Griffin that Congresswould be unlikely to move forward with any requested waiver until it received aformal legislative proposal from the White House.
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Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and SpaceNews.com. He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.