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Congress demands answers from NASA concerning Russian space station eviction

International Space Station
International Space Station

Three members of the House Science Committee have sent NASA Administrator Charles Bolden a letter on Thursday asking him what the space agency is prepared to do if Russia carries through on its threat to, in effect, evict the United States from the International Space Station. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimtry Rogozin recently announced that the Russian Federation would refuse to extend the ISS past 2020 to 2024 as President Obama desires. He implied that Russia would detach its modules from the space station making it unusable to the United States.

The congressmen, Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the Science Committee, Rep. Steven Palazzo, chairman of the Space Subcommittee, and Rep. Mo Brooks, Vice Chairman of the Space Subcommittee, noted that Bolden had reassured Congress that the recent crisis in the Ukraine would not affect the space station partnership. They suggested that measures should be taken to ensure the independent operation of the ISS if and when Russia withdraws. They posed several questions, according to the accompanying press release to the letter.

“To better understand the potential implications of these comments, the Congressmen request a briefing from NASA on the current state of international negotiations related to the proposed extension of the ISS beyond 2020. They also request a list of all critical components, services, or capabilities that Russia provides that are necessary for the continued operation of the ISS beyond 2020.”

In theory NASA or another partner could build replacements for Russian modules that would be gone if the threat to withdraw from the ISS were to be followed through. But this would cost quite a bit of money and, since the space shuttle which was used to construct much of the ISS is no longer, some degree of ingenuity. This would mean either an emergency increase in the space agency’s budget or the curtailment of another major program, such as the development of the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System heavy lift launcher for the space exploration program.

Thus far NASA has not commented on the Russian announcement, except to state that it had not been directly informed. The stance of the space agency and the Obama administration seems to be to hope the problem goes away on its own. However one house of Congress, at least, seems to be taking a proactive initiative six years before the threat would be followed through.