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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NASA to Build Part if Russia Can't

WASHINGTON -- NASA is prepared to build a propulsion system and escape vehicles for the International Space Station if Russia cannot meet its commitments to the $50 billion project, the U.S. space agency's chief said.

At a Monday briefing setting out details of the agency's $13.5 billion budget for 2000, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said the United States had already started developing a $500 million contingency system to propel the space station, in case problems develop with the propulsion system Russia has agreed to provide.

"We ... decided to move forward to mitigate adverse impacts on the station's operations if they can't meet their commitments for supplying propellant and dry goods," Goldin said.

The budget calls for $200 million for NASA's Russian Program Assurance, the official name for the contingency plan. The budget also sets aside $148 million to develop so-called crew return vehicles that will ferry people and supplies to and from the station.

The Soviet-era Soyuz was built to do this job for the Russian space station Mir, but it can only carry three people, which would not be enough in the event of an emergency that required the evacuation of all personnel.

NASA's return vehicle would be big enough to transport seven crew members in case they became incapacitated or the station became uninhabitable at a time when the space shuttle was not within range to ferry them back to Earth. The International Space Station has been repeatedly redesigned and delayed over the course of two decades, but the first two components were launched into orbit late last year.

NASA said last week that Russia would be two months late in launching the so-called service module, the station's crew quarters, which was originally supposed to go into orbit last April. It was first pushed back to July 1999 and now will be launched in September.

NASA said the two-month delay would not affect the overall timetable for the station. The agency has budgeted about $2.5 billion for the space station for fiscal 2000, the smallest amount for any of the major items on its list.