NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Mired In Russian Space Mess

September 23, 1998

In 1993, the Clinton administration insisted that Russia be included as a partner in building and launching the International Space Station -- the first components of which were scheduled to be launched this coming November and December. But the Russian economy has now collapsed and the government can't pay its bills.

So the administration has had to acknowledge that Russia can't live up to its commitments and has asked Congress for an extra $1.2 billion to bail Russia out.

How did this fiasco occur?

  • One of the first two components of the station was financed by the U.S. and built by the Russian government; the other was built by the U.S.
  • A third component, a service module financed and built by the Russians, is needed to refuel, and provide life support and environmental control systems -- without which the other two modules could only stay in orbit about 500 days before crashing back to earth.
  • Although the Russians have repeatedly promised to provide the funds to complete the service module, these promises have repeatedly been broken -- thus delaying the launch of the first two modules.
  • The service module most likely won't be ready until the fall of 1999 -- if then.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is reportedly considering either delaying launch of one of the earlier modules by as much as a year, or placing it in orbit as scheduled and using several expensive and temporary solutions to keep the station in space until the service module arrives.

In any event, experts report, cooperation with the Russians has resulted in compromises, numerous delays, high costs and acrimony.

Source: Robert Zimmerman, "Are the Russians Out to Launch or Out to Lunch?" Wall Street Journal, September 23, 1998.


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