Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 21

On January 29 A Russian space official denied reports that there will be yet another delay in the launching of a key component of the International Space Station (ISS). NASA officials were quoted late last week as saying that they had been told by their Russian counterparts that the launching of the third module of the ISS–to serve as the crews’ quarters–will be postponed until September because it requires more testing. The Russian-made module had earlier been scheduled to be sent into orbit in July. That date itself is a postponement: The original launch date was April 1998 (Reuters, AP, January 29). The official said, however, that no official decision has yet been made to delay the launch: “Everything is still set according to the plan, and that means July of 1999” (Reuters, January 29).

Talk of a another possible delay in meeting its ISS launch schedule comes at a difficult time for Moscow. The cash-strapped Russian space program has already been responsible for several launch postponements, a fact that has raised some tensions between Russian and U.S. space officials. More recently, moreover, the Russian government announced a plan to extend the life of the Mir space station.

Although that plan reportedly relies on nonbudgetary sources of funding and will not, according to Russian officials, have any adverse effect on Russia’s work for the ISS, U.S. officials were not particularly pleased to learn of it (see the Monitor, January 27). Washington is concerned that, among other things, Russia’s space establishment is not fully committed to the ISS, in large part because Russia will, at best, play second fiddle to the United States in the project. Moreover, NASA–concerned by the Russian space program’s many financial difficulties–had pushed Moscow to retire Mir early so that Russia could devote to the ISS all its scarce financial resources for space exploration.