ATLANTA (CNN) -- The United States is about to decide whether
a long-awaited vision of an international space station will
become reality. The problem is Russia.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration convinced
Congress years ago to give the Russians hundreds of millions
in U.S. tax dollars to build vital parts of the space
Russia completed the first section, and U.S. contractors in
Alabama have finished the second. But the vital third
section, which is known as the service module, is a year
behind schedule and getting further behind each day.
The Russians are to build it as well, but at the moment it is
an empty shell in a Russian factory. There is no money to pay
the workers, so the project languishes.
There is some sentiment in this country to be done with the
Russians and complete the project here.
Navy ICM satellite could be used
The Navy has a satellite called the interim control module,
or ICM, that could be used as a substitute for the Russian
service module. But it won't be ready to fly before late next
year, and it would cost more than the Russian version.
Despite the difficulties with Russia, NASA wants to keep it
in the program.
"They double the volume," says Wilbur Trafton, NASA's
assistant administrator. "They bring Soyuz and Progress
vehicles for crew supply and transfer. They've been in this
business as long as we have."
There is also a diplomatic angle to having the Russians as
"The only reason we've been doing the space station for the
past four years is for the foreign policy involvement of the
Russians," says John Pike of the Federation of American
"If you take the Russians out of the picture, we lose the
space station and jeopardize the entire space program."
NASA wants $200 million more to finish it
NASA wants Congress to spend another $200 million on the
station, $40 million of it in Russia. All of the money would
come from money appropriated for space shuttle operations.
But there is opposition.
The chairman of the House Science Committee, Jim
Sensenbrenner, has blasted NASA for trusting the Russians in
the first place. Others in Congress say that without the
Russians, there would be no station at all.