Russia, U.S. to merge efforts on space station

September 03, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Formally ending decades of Cold War rivalry in space, the United States and Russia agreed yesterday to merge the hearts of their manned space programs, embarking on a joint effort to design and construct an international space station.

In a separate agreement signed yesterday by Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, Russia also agreed to place export controls on missile technology, a step that the Clinton administration had set as a precondition to cooperation in space.

Russia also gained access to the lucrative international market for launching commercial satellites.

The new plan marks a reshaping of the nine-year, $9 billion U.S. effort to build its space station, Freedom. The joint station is expected to cost less and reach orbit faster than the old design. But it could face domestic and foreign hurdles, and experts have raised questions about the Russians' ability to fulfill their part of the deal.

The agreement stems in large part from the problems both national programs have faced in recent years. Russia is short of money for everything, and the U.S. space station has faced mounting congressional opposition as its budget has risen and its planned deployment has been steadily delayed.

This spring, President Clinton decided to keep the space station alive but to scale it back and to seek Russian cooperation in its design.

"We will continue to work from the baseline space station model," said an administration official. "There may be changes in the configuration, there may be some pieces of additional hardware that will bought from the Russians."

The joint station would fly in an orbit more highly inclined to the Earth's equator than the one NASA originally planned for its space station. For complex reasons of orbital geometry, a joint station would have to operate at this orbit to make it reachable by both U.S. shuttles and Russian rockets.

Questions abound as to whether the new plan will succeed. Congress is worried about protecting the jobs of American aerospace workers.

James E. Oberg, an American expert on the Russian space program, says that Russian space-launching facilities are in serious disrepair.

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