House passes waiver to buy more Soyuz flights
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: September 24, 2008
The U.S. House of Representatives today, as part of a continuing resolution needed to fund government operations past the upcoming elections and into 2009, extended a waiver to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act that would allow NASA to purchase seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft after the current waiver expires at the end of 2011.
"I'm thrilled! Couldn't be more pleased. Now, the Senate..." NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said in an email exchange with CBS News.
Because it takes three years to build a new Soyuz, an INKSNA waiver extension is required for NASA to avoid unmanning the station starting in 2012. If the Senate goes along and the extension becomes law, NASA would be able to maintain an uninterrupted presence on the lab complex and bridge the gap between the end of shuttle operations in 2010 and the debut of its replacement in 2014 or 2015.
The extension would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, and run to July 1, 2016. It is intended to "allow NASA to continue to purchase needed ISS-related goods and services from the Russians and ensure that U.S. astronauts will continue to have access to the ISS after the current waiver expires," according to a statement released by the Committee on Science and Technology. "The House passed the CR by a vote of 370 to 58."
"While I regret that it is necessary, passage of the waiver helps ensure uninterrupted access for U.S. astronauts to the international space station until our new American crew transfer and rescue systems are developed, by allowing us to contract with Russia," committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said in the statement.
The Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act forbids U.S. purchase of high technology goods from Russia, primarily because of Russia's past support of nuclear power initiatives in Iran. NASA has been able to buy Soyuz seats for U.S. and international astronauts under waivers granted by Congress.
NASA relies on the three-seat Russian spacecraft to occasionally carry U.S. and international astronauts to and from the space station and to provide emergency return capability between shuttle visits. NASA also is counting on using Soyuz seats to bridge the five-year gap between the end of shuttle operations in 2010 and the debut of the shuttle's replacement.
In recent weeks, an extension to the waiver appeared stalled, thanks in large part to Russia's conflict with Georgia. In an interview earlier this month, Griffin told CBS News he was not optimistic legislation could be passed before lawmakers adjourned for the fall elections.
Without a waiver, Griffin said "the first and most obvious possibility is there won't be any American or international partners on the space station after Dec. 31 of 2011. That's a possibility. Another possibility is that we will be told to continue flying shuttle and we would be given extra money to do so, in which case our Ares and Orion could be kept on track and we would no longer have a dependence on Russia.
"A third possibility is we could be told to keep flying shuttle, not be given any extra money, in which case we don't get Ares and Orion anytime soon and we still have a gap, it's just further out in time. And all of these things ignore the fact that flying shuttle does not ameliorate in truth our dependence upon the Russians because we still need them for crew rescue."
But in a statement today, Gordon said "the American taxpayers have made a significant investment in the ISS. It is important that we be able to use it productively once it is assembled, and for that we needed to have the INKSNA waiver extended."