Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 20

A recent American warning that Russia was "fumbling" its role in the construction of the Alpha International Space Station has struck some raw nerves in Moscow. The criticism came in the form of an article published in the January 27 New York Times that quoted Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Science Committee. He suggested that the ambitious international space program was "unraveling" and blamed Russia for having fallen behind schedule by nearly a year in the building of a vital station component — the service module — because of inadequate funding from the Russian government.

But a Russian government spokesman, Aleksandr Voznesensky, insisted on January 27 that funds for the program had been included in the 1997 budget that was passed by the Duma on January 24. He said there would only be "a small change in the timing," with the module to be launched in November, 1998, rather than in April as first planned. (Reuters, January 27) Voznesensky added that Yuri Koptev, the head of the Russian Space Agency, would be coming to the U.S. on February 2, presumably to reassure NASA and anxious members of Congress that Russia would remain on board the program.

Funding, however, is certain to remain a problem. At a January 17 meeting of Russia’s Interdepartmental Space Expert Commission (MEK), a representative of the Finance Ministry demanded that the space program be revised and "adjusted to present-day realities." (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 22) The Russian contribution to the international project has been conservatively estimated at some $3 billion. The Khrunichev Space Center, which is working on the service module, plans to use some of the recent $35 million loan it received from a Russian bank for the work. Meanwhile, NASA has drafted a contingency plan to substitute an American module should the Russians fail to meet their commitment. For the world’s leader in manned space flight this would be a bitter blow indeed.

A Banner Year for Arms Exports.