- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

NASA received approval this week to purchase Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transfer astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station as President Bush signed the Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said the “action helps to ensure the continuous presence of U.S. astronauts on the International Space Station.”

The legislation reflects a “continuing commitment to nonproliferation objectives” and “recognizes the value of international cooperation in space exploration,” Mr. Griffin said.

In 2000, Congress tied future space-station funds to controlling the spread of nuclear technology. The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 prohibited NASA from purchasing additional hardware from Russia unless Mr. Bush was willing to certify that Russia was not transferring nuclear technology or knowledge to Iran.

The space-station agreement called for Russia to provide 11 three-person Soyuz missions, each lasting six months, for a total of 51/2 years. These missions started Oct. 31, 2000, when the first long-term crew launched to the space station, and the agreement is set to expire in April. The Soyuz is the only craft that can remain in space for long periods of time and serve as a lifeboat for the space station crew.

NASA had planned to build its own transport vehicle by the end of the Soyuz agreement, but the project was canceled because of cost overruns.

NASA now is permitted to purchase Soyuz spacecraft through 2012. By that time, NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle, with a primary objective of ferrying people to the moon, should be able to fly to the space station.

News of the legislation is likely to be a relief to Cmdr. William McArthur, the American astronaut aboard the space station. The U.S.-Russian agreement covers his flight home but not the transport of his replacement. Before the mission, Cmdr. McArthur said: “Clearly, I need to stay until my replacement shows up. I’ve got a lot of confidence that once I get on orbit that the station program is going to get me home.”

An original plan called for Cmdr. McArthur to stay in orbit for an additional month after his crewmate, Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev, returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz that transported the pair to the space station. Cmdr. McArthur’s ride home would be on the space shuttle.

Those plans were scuttled when problems with the Discovery mission in July grounded the space shuttle again.

The amendment to the 2000 restrictions allows the space station to continue operating with its current logistics. In April, a three-person crew — American and Russian long-duration crew members, plus a Brazilian astronaut — will launch aboard a Soyuz. After a week at the space station, the Brazilian will return to Earth with Cmdr. McArthur and Col. Tokarev on their transport craft.

When the space shuttle resumes regular flights, three-member long-duration crews will be able to fly to and from the space station on both the Soyuz and the space shuttle.

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