Russia, eight months behind schedule in building a key element of the international space station, has until Feb. 28 to provide money for the project or the United States will make other plans, NASA officials said Wednesday.
NASA administrator Daniel S. Goldin told a congressional committee that Russia repeatedly has failed to keep its promises of financing and building a space station service module and that the U.S. agency is making tentative plans to use surplus U.S. military hardware instead.
“Time after time, we have been told the problem would be solved. It wasn’t,” said Goldin. “It is costing us time, money and the morale of our people.”
Now, he said, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration “will take action based only on observed performance, not mere statements of intent. It is the only prudent course.”
Under the international space station agreement, Russia was to build and finance a module that would provide guidance, navigation, crew quarters and orbital control for the station. The service module is the third element of the station and is to be launched in April 1998.
Rockets on the service module will boost the station into a higher orbit. Without the module, the station would fall to Earth in about a year.
Work on the service module has stopped because the Russian government has failed to pay contractors who are building the hardware. The funds were approved by the Russian Legislature but have not been released by the finance ministry.
Goldin, testifying at a House Science Committee hearing, said Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised in a meeting with Vice President Al Gore that the Russian government would provide, by the end of February, money to complete the service module.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., chairman of the committee, said the Russian government has twice broken promises to allocate money for the service module and that he and others on the committee have run out of patience.
If the Russians fail to fund the service module, NASA will choose one of two options, Goldin said:
Send to the station a refurbished rocket module to launch secret payloads. The rockets would be used to keep the assembled elements of the space station in orbit until the service module is available.
Contract directly with the Khrunichev Design Bureau in Russia to build a control module using equipment already in development by the Russians. This would bypass the Russian government and deal directly with Khrunichev.
Both options have drawbacks, said Goldin. Neither, for instance, would have the crew compartment that is part of the service module.
The space station is a joint project of the United States, Japan, Russia and the 10 countries in the European Space Agency. The first element is to be launched next November and orbital assembly is to be completed in June 2002.
The United States has already spent about $18 billion on the space station and it is expected to cost another $10 billion by its completion.
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