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Iraq disagreement won't sour space station alliance

Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC with previous permission of the Houston


March 20, 2003, 8:44AM

Iraq disagreement won't sour space station alliance

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Russia's refusal to back the U.S.-led war on Iraq may have
created tensions on Earth, but in space, the two countries are determined
to remain comrades. 

The fate of the international space station depends on it. 

Next week, NASA and its 15 partners in the project are expected to name
the Russian and American astronauts who will fly to the station in April
aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The current crew, two Americans and a
Russian, will use a Soyuz already docked at the station as a lifeboat
home. A similar exchange is tentatively scheduled for the fall. 

What happens beyond that -- and who will pay for it -- has yet to be
decided, however. 

"It is very difficult to find this money," said Grygory Osibov, a
representative of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency who is based at
Houston's Johnson Space Center. "But we have worked together many, many
years. We are very familiar, and we are friends." 

In recent weeks, that friendship has been tested as President Bush leaned
on Russian President Vladimir Putin to support his effort to win United
Nations backing to use military force to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam

In the end, the issue became moot because the United States and its
allies decided to withdraw their U.N. resolution and proceed with the war
on their own. On Wednesday, one day after Bush informed the nation, he
telephoned Putin to smooth things over. 

"The two openly acknowledged that they don't see eye-to-eye on whether or
not force should be used to disarm Saddam Hussein," said White House
press secretary Ari Fleischer. "But the two of them in the phone call did
stress to each other the importance of maintaining good U.S.-Russia
relations, and they both expressed confidence that it would, indeed,

The U.S.-Russia alliance is key to the success of the $100 billion space
station because the two countries are the only ones able to ferry staff
and supplies to the orbiting outpost. When Columbia disintegrated over
Texas on Feb. 1, killing all seven astronauts aboard, the remaining three
shuttles were grounded, temporarily stranding Kenneth Bowersox, Donald
Pettit and Nikolai Budarin on the station. 

Russia quickly restocked the station as planned and agreed to bring the
three home and replace them with two caretakers this spring. European
partners in the project said they would honor their financial commitments
this year, even though their astronauts will have to give up their seats
on upcoming flights to allow a continuous presence of Russians and
Americans aboard the station. 

But the financially strapped Russians have complained that they need
about $100 million -- soon -- if they are to produce additional Progress
vehicles. The unmanned spacecraft will supply the station with water,
groceries and other essentials until investigators figure out what went
wrong on Columbia and shuttles resume flying. 

NASA spokeswoman Debbie Rahn said progress is being made, but "we still
don't have everything." 

"The partners are looking at how many additional vehicles will be needed,
and the funding is still under discussion," she said, adding that U.S.
representatives will travel to the Netherlands this weekend to meet with
Russian and European partners. 

Rahn said that despite Vershbow's comments, she is unaware of any
directive from the White House or State Department that would change the
way NASA approaches those discussions. 

"NASA doesn't set foreign policy," she said, "but we have a good working
relationship with our Russian space partners. We have a long-term
agreement to with all partners to pursue the space station program, and
we're continuing our discussions." 


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