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NASA Asked How to Keep Space Station Going Without Russia

Soyuz Rocket Blast off to International Space Station
Russian Soyuz-FG rocket with the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft and a crew of U.S. astronaut Steven Swanson, Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev aboard, blasts off from a launch pad at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, early on March 26, 2014. Photographer: Vasily Maximov/AFP via Getty Images

Lawmakers have asked NASA’s chief how the U.S. can maintain use of the International Space Station if Russia delivers on a threat to end its participation after 2020 as the crisis in Ukraine strains relations.

“We will need to step back and evaluate the costs and benefits of maintaining” the station “without our Russian partners,” House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, and members of the panel said in a letter today to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said May 13 that his country would no longer export Russian engines for U.S. military rockets and also may withdraw from operations of the civilian space station. Rogozin was among Russian officials singled out for U.S. economic sanctions over his country’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.

“Our international space partnerships, including our partnership with Russia, have historically endured political division,” the lawmakers wrote. “But Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin’s statements raise serious concerns about the strength of those partnerships.”

Since ending its manned space program in 2011, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has depended on Russia to shuttle crews to and from the station that orbits 260 miles (418 kilometers) above the Earth.

Ferry Supplies

Two U.S. companies, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., have NASA contracts to ferry supplies to the space station.

In addition, the government has contracts with SpaceX; Boeing Co.; Sierra Nevada Corp.; and Blue Origin LLC, founded by Jeff Bezos, the chairman and chief executive officer of Inc., to develop a rocket and capsule capable of carrying astronauts to the station by 2017.

The lawmakers asked Bolden for information on international negotiations to keep the International Space Station functioning beyond 2020, and what the impact of a Russian withdrawal would be.

“As we move forward, it is important that we fully understand our nation’s independent capabilities with regard to ISS operations,” the lawmakers wrote.

A NASA spokesman, Allard Beutel, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Smith’s letter also was signed by Representative Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican who heads the space subcommittee, and subcommittee vice chairman Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican.

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