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DateLine Tuesday, 26 August 2008

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US-Russia chill threatens NASA space programme

US: The chill left on US-Russian relations by Moscow’s military incursion into Georgia could spell problems for future US access to the International Space Station, US experts said.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will become dependent on flights to the ISS by Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft when it retires the shuttle fleet that has long ferried US astronauts into space in 2010.

NASA will only get its successor space vehicle, Orion, planned for a revival of trips to the moon, ready for flight in 2015 at the earliest.

That leaves the needs of US astronauts visiting the ISS vulnerable to the possibility of a new Cold War between Washington and Moscow after Russia’s powerful military overran much of Georgia two weeks ago in the dispute over South Ossetia.

“If recent Russian actions are any indicator, a technical excuse to completely block US access to the ISS for geopolitical reasons would fit nicely into the Kremlin toolkit,” Vincent Sabathier, an expert on human space exploration at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told AFP.

Sabathier noted that not only was the short Georgia war a serious thorn in relations, but also the US determination to set up in Poland and the Czech Republic its missile defense system, which Russia calls a threat to its military.

“Almost immediately after the Czech Republic signed an agreement with the US to place missile defense tracking radar in its territory, oil supplies through the Druzhba pipeline to the central European country were reduced to a trickle ... ostensibly for technical reasons,” Sabathier said.

The end of the three-decade-old shuttle program leaves NASA with at least a five-year hole on which it will have to pay Russia’s space agency to deliver and retrieve US astronauts and cargo to the ISS.

Washington, Monday, AFP

 

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