Space travel could get a little, um, awkward

NASA/Newsmakers With the space shuttle set to retire in 2010, and its replacement not ready until 2015, the United States had been planning on hitchhiking to the International Space Station for a few years. That may be a bit of a problem now, as the one country with the ability to transport to and from ...

593224_080815_spacestation5.jpg
593224_080815_spacestation5.jpg

NASA/Newsmakers

With the space shuttle set to retire in 2010, and its replacement not ready until 2015, the United States had been planning on hitchhiking to the International Space Station for a few years. That may be a bit of a problem now, as the one country with the ability to transport to and from the station turns out to be -- you guessed it -- Russia.

Beyond the rising rhetorical showdown between the two sides, there's also a legal roadblock that may prevent further space cooperation with Russia. The United States needs to negotiate a new contract with the Russian space program, which may be difficult because Congress must first pass a waiver to a 2000 law banning government contracts with states who supported nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. That includes -- you guessed it -- Russia.

NASA/Newsmakers

With the space shuttle set to retire in 2010, and its replacement not ready until 2015, the United States had been planning on hitchhiking to the International Space Station for a few years. That may be a bit of a problem now, as the one country with the ability to transport to and from the station turns out to be — you guessed it — Russia.

Beyond the rising rhetorical showdown between the two sides, there’s also a legal roadblock that may prevent further space cooperation with Russia. The United States needs to negotiate a new contract with the Russian space program, which may be difficult because Congress must first pass a waiver to a 2000 law banning government contracts with states who supported nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. That includes — you guessed it — Russia.

In an election year with an increasingly bellicose Moscow, that’s “almost impossible,” says Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a supporter of the waiver who admits America is stuck between a rock and a hard place:

It is a lose-lose situation,” Nelson said.

“If our relationship with Russia is strained, who knows if Russia will give us rides in the future?” Nelson asked. “Or if they give us rides, will they charge such an exorbitant price that it becomes blackmail?”

Still, who knows what relations with Russia will be like in 2010? Even if the Cold War is truly back, that doesn’t necessarily spell the end of U.S.-Soviet — er, Russian — space cooperation. A lot could change in the next few years.

Patrick Fitzgerald is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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