U.S. Sen. Bill Nelsonpledged Thursday to fast-track efforts to get congressional approval for awaiver NASA needs to get astronauts to the International Space Station afterthe space shuttles are retired in 2010.
"We are going to makea full, true-blue push to get (the waiver) passed," the Orlando Democratsaid after emerging from a meeting with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.
NASA needs theexemption to send crews aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle beyond 2011.Otherwise, the United States has no way of reaching the $100 billion spacestation until the shuttle's replacement becomesavailable in 2015 or later.
Griffin declined to commenton his meeting with Nelson or on his meetings with other lawmakers this week togarner support on the issue.
Nelson said he hopes theSenate will approve the waiver by unanimous consent. However, opposition byeven one member would doom that effort.
In that case, Nelson saidhe would send the waiver to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for itsapproval, which would then send the measure back to the full Senate for a vote.
"We don't like theposition that we're in, but we don't have any choice if we want to have accessto our own space station during a four- or five-year gap," Nelson said.
NASA is seeking anexemption from a nonproliferation law that forbids the United States buyingspace-related goods and services from Russia while that nation exports nucleartechnology to Iran and other nations considered hostile by the U.S. government.
NASA currently holds awaiver from the ban that expires in 2011, but the agency needs an extension assoon as possible to give Russia enough time to build Soyuz.
Concern over whetherlawmakers would grant the waiver comes when U.S.-Russian relations are icy. TherecentRussian invasion of neighboring Georgia further soured some opinions.
Not helping is the currentcongressional schedule - lawmakers expect to recess for the rest of the yearwithin a few weeks so that they can return to campaigning.
"If worse came toworst, we could still do it in January, but we need to get this behindus," Nelson said. "A new president would recognize we have to do it.But how much of a learning curve is there? You have to get a new administrationup to snuff."
Nelson said Griffin haslearned the State Department supports extending the waiver. National SecurityAdviser Steve Hadley also would like to see it passed, Nelson said.
Rep. Howard Berman, theCalifornia Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, alsosupports the effort, according to his spokeswoman.
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