Command of space station will be shared by other nations American astronauts won't always be in charge

September 28, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The United States designed the international space station and is paying half its construction costs, but U.S. astronauts there won't always be in charge.

Sometimes they'll have to take orders from a Russian cosmonaut or an astronaut from Japan, Canada or the European Space Agency.

In a major reversal of policy, NASA agreed this week to allow space travelers from other countries to command the station, perhaps for months at a time.

Last year, NASA and Russia clashed over NASA's insistence that American astronauts always be in command of the station. Ground control will remain in the hands of the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA gave in to Russia during a top-level meeting this week of all the international partners of the station, NASA Associate Administrator Wil Trafton said.

NASA is paying $29 billion, about half of the station's overall cost. The first part of the station will be launched next year, and it will be built over five years.

At the same meeting, NASA insisted that the Russians speed up their work on the service module, a crucial part of the station that provides life support, utilities and living quarters.

The 46,300-pound room is supposed to be launched in April 1998, but construction is at least three months behind schedule because the company building the module wasn't being paid, said NASA station manager Randy Brinkley.

NASA has contingency plans if the Russians do not live up to their commitment, Trafton said.

However, he would not elaborate.

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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