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Space station: merger with the Russians.

NASA's decade-long struggle to build a space station has taken a new international twist.

President Clinton announced on Nov. 29 his support for building a space station jointly with the Russians. Some components of the proposed station, scheduled for completion in 2001, would come from parts originally meant for MIR-2, the planned second generation of the Russian space station now in orbit. The U.S.-Russian collaboration was one of several proposals suggested by NASA earlier this year after the White House ordered the agency to come up with a less costly design (SN: 6/19/93, p.389).

The call for Russian participation has political overtones. The United States wanted to reward its former Cold War enemy for promising to back out of selling missile technology to India. Nonetheless, the White House's approval of the joint venture is "a fundamental decision in the history of space policy," says John M. Logsdon, a space policy analyst at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Marcia Smith, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service in Washington, D.C., sees things differently She says the proposal "may be good for U.S. foreign policy; I'm skeptical that its going to be good for space policy"

The first phase of the plan would give NASA access to the existing MIR space station, allowing scientists to test equipment designed for the new space station. Between 1995 and 1997, the United States would launch 10 shuttle missions to dock with MIR; U.S. astronauts would spend three to six months aboard the craft. Some shuttle missions would repair and refuel MIR, ensuring that it remains in orbit through 1997.

In mid-1997, U.S. and Russian crews would begin the second phase, assembling in space the nucleus of the new space station. In the final phase, astronauts would construct the truss that will hold the stations solar arrays and laboratory modules built by Japan and several European countries. Complete assembly will require an estimated 31 flights, 19 by NASA and 12 by the Russians. Robert Clarke, an international relations specialist at NASA headquarters, estimates the Russian involvement would save the United States between $2 billion and $4 billion and make possible the stations completion two years earlier than planned.

It's unclear how many U.S. jobs might vanish because of the use of Russian equipment. Clarke contends that the biggest impact on jobs has already occurred --when the White House directed NASA to design a cheaper space station. Smith notes that unlike the arrangement with other foreign contributors, who are providing equipment for the space station without charge, the United States would lease or purchase some components from the Russians. In addition, Smith and congressional aides express concern that the extra cost of launching U.S. shuttles into the orbit preferred by the Russians might exceed an annual $2.1 billion budget cap previously requested by the administration.

Other concerns, says Smith, include reports of physical deterioration at Russia's launch site, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. She notes that the site must remain in good condition for at least a decade to ensure the success of a U.S.-Russian space station. Maintaining Baikonur will require continued good relations between Russia and Kazakhstan, Smith adds. She also worries that if U.S.-Russian relations sour, the White House might cut Russia out of the loop, leaving the space station in limbo.

"From my perspective, there's lots of really nifty things we could do jointly with the Russians in space, but they've chosen the one particular program that is the most troubled at NASA," says Smith. "Loading all these policy issues on the shoulders of an already troubled program is going to make it less likely to succeed."
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Title Annotation:President Clinton supports building a space station jointly with the Russians
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 11, 1993
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