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Shuttle Disaster

Russia's ties with Iran hamper space funding

©Associated Press

February 21, 2003

MOSCOW -- Russia's space chief exhorted Washington on Thursday to help finance the construction of extra Russian spacecraft needed to run the international space station during a break in U.S. shuttle flights.

Pending an inquiry into the Columbia shuttle disaster, Russia's Soyuz crew capsules and Progress cargo ships are the only links to the space station. Russian space officials said they were ready to build extra ships -- but they want the United States and other partners in the 16-nation project to share the costs.

But NASA has said potential funding to Russia is constrained by U.S. legislation, which Russian Aerospace Agency director Yuri Koptev urged the Bush administration to overlook.

"We expect that the spirit of our relationship that has emerged from our nations' fight against international terrorism . . . will be applied to this specific and very important area," he said Thursday.

The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 bars "extraordinary payments" to Russia's space agency for the station unless the United States confirms Russia has not transferred missile technology or nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to Iran in the previous year.

The legislation reflects strong U.S. concerns that Russia is helping Iran advance its nuclear and missile programs. Russia says its cooperation with Iran is strictly limited to a contract for building a civilian nuclear power plant in Bushehr.

On Thursday, the space chief dismissed U.S. accusations of cooperation with Iran as "political myths" and urged the Bush administration to seek a waiver of the nonproliferation act.

The space station usually has a permanent staff of three -- currently, two Americans and a Russian. Koptev said a replacement crew to be sent in May aboard a Russian Soyuz would likely be two people, reducing the number of trips to the station to sustain them.

Russia has budgeted $130-million to fulfill its obligation to send two Soyuz and three Progress ships to the station this year. But it needs an additional $85-million to finish construction of two Soyuz capsules and six Progress ships needed because of the break in shuttle flights.

NASA STILL TO DEVELOP NEW CRAFT: As investigators search for the cause of the Columbia disaster, NASA is moving ahead with plans to develop a new craft that would replace shuttles on space station missions by 2012 and respond quickly to space station emergencies.

The space agency released the first set of mission needs and requirements Wednesday for the orbital space plane, which would be designed to transport a crew of four to and from the international space station.

PSYCHOLOGISTS AID SPACE STATION CREW: Mental health counselors on the ground have helped the three-member crew aboard the international space station deal with their grief after the Columbia disaster, the crew's commander said Thursday.

The astronauts said their emotions over the loss of their seven friends on Columbia seem to be amplified in orbit because of the sense of solitude.

The crew had been scheduled to return to Earth aboard space shuttle Atlantis next month. But all shuttle flights are on indefinite hold while an investigation tries to determine the cause of the Columbia breakup on Feb. 1.

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