WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Mike Griffin creditedDemocratic presidential candidate Barack Obama for spurring Congress to actionon legislation allowing the U.S. space agency to buy the Russian Soyuz flightsits needs to send astronauts to the international space station beyond 2011.
"Iam deeply grateful to you, personally, for your leadership in supporting thedifficult, but important, decision to extend NASA'swaiver to the Iran, Syria, North Korea Non-proliferation Act to allow theU.S. purchase of Russian Soyuz spacecraft after 2011," Griffin said in anOct. 2 letter to Obama. "This authority will allow the United States to continue transporting our astronauts to the international space station (ISS),honoring America's commitment to provide transportation for crewmembers fromEurope, Canada, and Japan and to ensure that 'lifeboats' are available at ISSin case of emergencies. The availability of this critical service from ourRussian partners is vital to the United States as we retire the Space Shuttleand complete the development of the new generation of U.S human space flightcapabilities.
"Withoutyour leadership this would not have happened. Thank you," Griffin concluded the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Space News.
NASAcurrently buys Russian Soyuzcapsules and Progress cargo vehicles under a waiver to thenon-proliferation law cited by Griffin, which bars the space agency from buyingRussian space station hardware unless Russia does more to contain the spread ofweapons technology. That waiver is set to expire at the end of 2011, and itschances of renewal were thrown into doubt after Russia invaded neighboring Georgia in August.
Obama,a U.S. senator from Illinois, wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) andSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Sept. 22 urging approval of NASA'srequest to extend the waiver. The next day the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee approved the International Space Station Payment Act of 2008 (S.3103)granting NASA permission to keep buying Soyuzbeyond 2011.
Severaldays later, Congress added the Soyuz waiver provision to the ConsolidatedSecurity, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act for 2009, whichU.S. President George W. Bush signed into law Sept. 30.