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Russian push into Georgia could knock Nasa off ISS

Astronauts could be benched till 2015

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Russia’s invasion of Georgia is sending ripples right out into space, with NASA facing the possibility of no longer being able to hitch a ride to the International Space Station on Soyuz flights.

With the space shuttle due to retire in 2010, and the US not likely to have a replacement manned space flight option ready till 2015, Russian’s space fleet is the only interim option for the US to get people into space and onto the ISS.

But the US and Russia have long been at loggerheads over Moscow’s less-than-hard line on Iran’s nuclear program, and the 2000 Iran-Syria Non-Proliferation Act bans the US from tech purchases from countries that trade nuke material with those countries.

That bill includes an exemption for Russia’s Soyuz program, allowing the US to book seats on Russian manned flights, but that expires in 2011, when it will be put to the vote again.

Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida-based democrat who is a major advocate for Nasa, has publicy acknowledged that Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance means Congress is unlikely to let the exemption through.

He told Florida Today: "It was a tough sell before, but it was doable simply because we didn't have a choice. We don't want to deny ourselves access to the space station, the very place we have built and paid for."

“That’s a $100bn investment up there that we won’t have access to,” he said to the Florida Sentinel.

He also acknowledged that even if Congress did extend the waiver an increasingly assertive Russia might simply snub NASA.

Nelson did not let the opportunity pass to take a pop at the Bush administration, criticising it for allowing the US to become dependent on Russia’s manned space program. "If I were president I'd be pulling out all the stops to get Russia to understand the consequences of continued bad behavior," Nelson told the Sentinel.

The US has indeed been taking a tougher line with Russia over the Georgian incursion, though whether that makes future space collaboration more likely is decidedly moot. With US forces delivering aid – and whisking Georgian troops back from Iraq – we seem to be heading back to the days when Russian and US astronauts being within 20 feet of one another in space is seen as a major advance in détente. ®

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