Sen. Barack Obama condemned the current administration’s handling of NASA and called on Congress to take action before next Friday to protect the United States’ access to the International Space Station.
At issue is a waiver for a section of the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Agreement that bans payments to Russia for Soyuz spacecraft to transport U.S. astronauts to the ISS after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010.
The current waiver is set to expire at the end of 2011. If Congress doesn’t renew the waiver before Friday, there would be a gap in Soyuz availability before Orion, the Shuttle’s replacement, is ready in 2015. Chris Shank, a key aide to NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, recently told the Orlando Sentinel that “if we do not get the exemption on this, we are going to have to abandon the station, and that if we do this it will hurt the U.S. space program not the Russians.â€
In Obama’s letter, sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Monday, he also urges Congress to fund one additional, already authorized, Shuttle flight and to demand NASA take no further actions that would preclude extending the Shuttle program beyond 2010. The alternative is to leave the $100-billion facility to the other countries involved and miss out on the benefits, he wrote.