Obama Backs NASA Waiver, Possible Shuttle Extension
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., waves at the airport after a campaign event in Green Bay, Wis., Monday, Sept. 22, 2008.
Credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is urging Congress to take several steps to ensure the United States can continue to access the international space station beyond 2011.

In letters addressed to House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and posted on his Senate Web site Sept. 22, Obama urges the two congressional leaders to renew an existing waiver to the Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-proliferation Act (INSKNA) to permit NASA to continue buying the Russian Soyuz vehicles it needs to transport U.S., Canadian, European and Japanese astronauts to and from the station. NASA's current waiver, enacted in 2005, expires at the end of 2011.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told reporters Sept. 18 that without swift action on the waiver request, NASA might not be able to send its astronauts to the station on a Soyuz flight slated to launch in October 2011 since the agency would have no way to guarantee their return. Griffin said Russia needs a three-year lead time to produce a Soyuz.

Obama, echoing a plea Republican presidential candidate John McCain made to President George W. Bush in an Aug. 25 letter, also calls for NASA to "take no further action that would make it more difficult or expensive to fly the Shuttle beyond 2010."

Obama also urges Congress to give NASA additional funding in 2009 for the additional shuttle flight House and Senate authorizers want to see NASA conduct in order to launch the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the international space station.

Obama said Congress needs to be prepared to further increase NASA's budget depending on what emerges from a shuttle extension study recently initiated at Griffin's request.

"The results should be available in the November timeframe so that the President-elect's transition team can prepare appropriate action along with appropriate [fiscal year 2010] budgeting," Obama wrote.

"NASA's appropriators, however, should be prepared to consider increasing NASA's budget to extend safe Shuttle operations beyond 2010 and to accelerate government and private-sector efforts to provide human access to low-earth orbit. Any effort to extend the Shuttle program must receive adequate funding, ensuring that progress on developing new vehicles is not further delayed by diverting funds to the Shuttle."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to take up the INKSNA waiver ? formally known as S. 3103, the International Space Station Payments Act of 2008, during a Sept. 23 working session.