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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blast-Off for U.S.-Russia Space Project

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly rejected efforts to kill a space-station project that will include Russian participation, removing the final legislative hurdle for the $17.4 billion project and providing more stability than it has had in a decade.


"The thing that our contractors and employees tell us we need more than anything else is stability," said Daniel Goldin, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "We now have it."


Goldin said the continuation of congressional support this year will let NASA prove that its management reforms can get the space station "on track, on budget and on schedule."


Until this year, the project had had such lukewarm political support and such an erratic funding record that its design changed year by year and its stated mission was never made clear.


But Wednesday's 64 to 36 margin of support in the Senate, as well as overwhelming approval last month in the House, reflected the increasing commitment to the station that has followed an agreement last year to bring Russia into the program's international team.


The agreement will allow NASA to go from an "agent of the Cold War" to an important force in international cooperation, Goldin argued, a crucial transition for the space agency that has converted opponents of the station to supporters.


Democratic Senator Clayborne Pell voted against the station last year, but reversed his position in the vote Wednesday, convinced that the project had advanced "light years in terms of design and mission," Pell said. His shift was also influenced by the foreign-policy aspect of the station.


Senate opponents of the project, led by Dale Bumpers, also a Democrat, had asserted that Russia's participation will not save any money in building the station, despite claims by NASA and the Clinton administration to the contrary.


A General Accounting Office report cited by Bumpers said that because of "lower than anticipated contributions of Russian hardware, Russian participation would add a net $400 million in funding requirements to the space-station program."


GAO said also Russian participation would increase money requirements for other NASA programs that support the space station by at least $1.4 billion.


Goldin has increased confidence in Congress that he can rein in runaway costs on the project through more focused management. Under Goldin, NASA put a single company, Boeing, and a single NASA center, Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, in charge of building the station.


Goldin's popularity has succeeded in winning support from tradition congressional blocs long opposed to the space station, which Goldin argues shows that the agency is "getting more relevant to the country."


And although NASA has spent $11 billion on the project with little tangible to show for it, the agency now stands ready to begin serious manufacturing. Contractors around the country will turn out 11,250 kilograms of flight hardware this year and 33,750 kilograms next year -- a tiny fraction of the total job, but visible progress nonetheless.