Mir's woes raise doubts about U.S.-Russian cooperation
June 25, 1997
Web posted at: 7:07 p.m. EDT (2307 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With crisis after crisis on the Russian
space station Mir -- fires, failed equipment, a collision --
is it time to pull the plug on an ambitious program of
U.S.-Russian space cooperation?
NASA administrators, as is their custom, are touting the
bright side and saying no. But a key member of Congress
emphasized on Wednesday his doubts about joining Russia in
building an international space station -- or sending any
more American astronauts up to Mir.
"Since February, there have been 10 major crises involving
the Mir space station," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner,
R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Science
Committee. "We have to make a determination if the science we
are doing up there is worth the American lives we are
NASA's recent missions to Mir with American astronauts are
part of a tremendously complicated, hugely expensive plan to
build an international space station, with the Russians as
the principle partner -- a plan Sensenbrenner and other
members of the Science Committee have criticized.
NASA pays about $400 million to the Russian space agency for
each Mir mission. For its part, Russia is to supply the
hardware and build the third vital section, or service
module, of the space station. Russia already has completed
the first section; U.S. contractors built the second.
But the Russians have fallen behind schedule -- a failure
that has delayed the space station by at least eight months,
to June 1998. And now the 11-year-old Mir, flying long past
its designed lifetime, is proving less than reliable.
Sensenbrenner says he will insist that NASA Administrator
Daniel Goldin conduct a "top-to-bottom" evaluation of the
safety of Mir before sending up any more U.S. astronauts. He
believes the Russians may be trying to keep the flights to
Mir going to keep those $400 million payments coming.
But Frank Culbertson, NASA's manager for the joint program,
says the recent problems on Mir will not affect U.S.-Russian
cooperation in space.
"I don't see this as an impact to our cooperation. We will
continue to cooperate and work together," he says. "We will
learn from this, and there will be good lessons that come out
of this on how to deal with future events should they occur."
When asked about calls in Congress to no longer permit
astronauts aboard Mir, White House spokesman Mike McCurry
said, "We remain committed to the program."
And space analyst John Logsdon says that whatever happens to
the program of joint missions on Mir, those trips have served
a useful purpose.
"If it ends now, we've learned a lot," Logsdon said. "If it
continues for another few months, we've learned some more."
Correspondent Miles O'Brien contributed to this report.
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