Obama Backs NASA Waiver, Possible Shuttle Extension

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. (Image credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

WASHINGTON — Democraticpresidential candidate Barack Obama is urging Congress to take several steps toensure the United States can continue to access the international space stationbeyond 2011.

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

NASAAdministrator Mike Griffin told reporters Sept. 18 that without swiftaction on the waiver request, NASA might not be able to send its astronauts tothe station on a Soyuz flight slated to launch in October 2011 since the agencywould 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 PresidentGeorge W. Bush inan Aug. 25 letter, also calls for NASA to "take no further action thatwould make it more difficult or expensive to fly the Shuttle beyond 2010."

Obamaalso urges Congress to give NASA additional funding in 2009 for the additionalshuttle flight House and Senate authorizers want to see NASA conduct in orderto launch the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the international space station.

Obamasaid Congress needs to be prepared to further increase NASA's budget dependingon what emerges from a shuttleextension study recently initiated at Griffin's request.

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

"NASA'sappropriators, however, should be prepared to consider increasing NASA's budgetto extend safe Shuttle operations beyond 2010 and to accelerate government andprivate-sector efforts to provide human access to low-earth orbit. Any effortto extendthe Shuttle program must receive adequate funding, ensuring that progresson developing new vehicles is not further delayed by diverting funds to theShuttle."

TheSenate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to take up the INKSNA waiver ?formally known as S. 3103, the International Space Station Payments Act of2008, during a Sept. 23 working session.


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Editor-in-Chief, SpaceNews

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.