Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 25

Yesterday’s failure on Mir is only the latest in a series of problems Russia’s demoralized cash-strapped space program faces. On February 1, U.S. space agency officials said that NASA is already developing contingency plans to build a propulsion system and escape vehicles for the International Space Station (ISS) if Russia is unable to meet obligations to supply the hardware. According to NASA chief Dan Goldin, the agency has set aside US$500 million for the propulsion system and another US$148 million to develop so-called crew return vehicles which will ferry people and supplies to and from the station (Reuters, February 3).

The NASA announcement came as Russian Space Agency officials confirmed that they are falling further behind schedule in their construction of the ISS living quarters module. On February 1 a Russian Space Agency spokesman said that the launch of the living quarters might take place as late as September, rather than in July, as had been planned. The July date was itself was a delay of over a year from the module’s original launch date. Two ISS components are already in orbit but astronauts cannot take up residence there until the living quarters are completed and launched. Russian and U.S. sources have said that the first three-man crew–comprised of two Russians and one American–could still go up in January of 2000 as planned (Reuters, February 1).

Russia’s delays in meeting its commitments to the ISS program have caused tensions between Moscow and other project participants. The United States is to build and finance 50 percent of the station; Japan, Canada, Brazil and eleven European nations are to handle 20 percent; and Russia has committed to 30 percent. The United States was especially unhappy with Russia’s recent decision to maintain the Mir station in orbit–though the success of that effort will reportedly depend on the Energia Corporation’s ability to raise private funding to maintain Mir. But NASA officials have asked their Russian counterparts to devote all of their meager resources to the ISS. Some U.S. officials see the Russian decision to extend Mir’s life as an indication of a less than full Moscow commitment to the ISS.