US Astronauts May Have to Leave Space Station in 2012


Because of stalled legislation that is needed to allow NASA to pay the Russian Space Agency to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station on board the Soyuz spacecraft, the US section of the space station may have to go unmanned in at least part of 2012. In an interview with CBS’s Bill Harwood, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said because of the of the three-year lead time needed to build Soyuz vehicles, contracts must be in place by early 2009. But because of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Congress is unlikely to extend an exemption that allows money to be paid to Russia for high technology goods. Griffin said the problem is very serious, and new legislation would have to be approved within the next few weeks to prevent an interruption in NASA astronauts being on board the ISS.

With the exemption to the Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-Proliferation Act, NASA has been able to buy Soyuz seats for U.S. and international astronauts. While the exemption doesn’t expire until the end of 2011, Congress must approve an extension now in order for NASA to place contracts with the Russians by early next year.

Griffin said NASA has been working all year on getting the needed legislation passed. Congress has been aware of the need for a renewal of the exemption for quite some time, as Griffin talked about the importance of the exemption in his testimony during budget hearings last winter.

NASA also is counting on using the Soyuz to bridge the five-year gap between the end of shuttle operations in 2010 and the debut of the Constellation program in 2015. In addition, NASA still needs the Russian Soyuz for rescue capability for the ISS.

“Where it stands is right now,” Griffin said of the exemption, “it’s dead stalled. Because there’s no legislation which is going to come out of the Congress, other than the continuing resolution package, before they recess to go home for elections. And so right now, we’re just on dead stop. And of course, the invasion of Georgia didn’t help.”

“So here’s what will happen. The first and most obvious possibility is there won’t be any American or international partners on the space station after Dec. 31 of 2011. That’s a possibility. Another possibility is that we will be told to continue flying shuttle and we would be given extra money to do so, in which case our Ares and Orion could be kept on track and we would no longer have a dependence on Russia.

“A third possibility is we could be told to keep flying shuttle, not be given any extra money, in which case we don’t get Ares and Orion anytime soon and we still have a gap, it’s just further out in time.”

Asked if he has any optimism a waiver can be in place in time to avoid a gap in U.S. space station operations, Griffin said simply, “no.”

“My own guess is at this point we’re going to have some period in 2012 where there’s no American or international partner crew on station, that there’s only the Russians there,” he said. “That period always ends three years from when we have a contract with the Russians. So if we can get through all this by June of next year and have a contract with the Russians, then in the latter part of 2012 we can fly a Soyuz flight and restore things to normal.”

A transcript of the entire interview is available from CBS News here. In the interview, Griffin also talks about the upcoming mission to the Hubble Space Telescope and the recently announced delays for the Constellation Program.

Source: CBS News Space Place

32 Replies to “US Astronauts May Have to Leave Space Station in 2012”

  1. Sucks!

    Suddenly I remembered the scene from “2010” when the US astronauts and the Russian (Soviet) astronauts had to go to separate parts of the ship on the way to Jupiter since war had been declared between the two countries. I think that was “2010”…

  2. No international partners? How come?

    Europe’s presence in the ISS isn’t dependent on american legislation, so why would that legislation have an impact on international partners being there or not?

    And yes, Nicole, that was 2010. Very well remembered indeed.

  3. I too would say COTS, but the reality is they are not tested and probably wont be tested in time. Not if we have to wait till after the election for funds.
    The Soyuz is already flying.

    The more realistic answer would be an extension of the shuttle if possible. Altho I personally dislike the idea, and have said so before.

    The best answer is none at all.
    Ignore the ISS for a few years (rent out our sections to the Europeans), finish the new boosters using the full resources freed up by the shuttles retirement, and proceed to the moon.

    …hopefully having learned the painful lessons of international entanglement, which means leaving the Russians on the ground.

    Aside from the political “screw you”, we would also benefit if they develop their own lunar access systems (as we have benefited from them having their own launch systems, till now).

  4. Who cares?

    The difference between “we have had a constant manned presence in space since…” and “we’ve had an almost constant manned presence in space since…” is almost nonexistent.

    It’s about the same as being nervous because you no longer have someone sailing up and down your coastline in a rowboat to test the waters.

  5. Imagine if we do nothing and after a pause of 5 years, Americans purpose to visit the ISS with our new spacecraft and the Russians refuse? Last time they grabbed things that were valuable and didn’t belong to them (the countries of eastern europe) it took a revolution and 50 years to get them to let go of the swag.

  6. I agree with the ‘Who cares’ part. Sell the damn thing to the Saudis or whoever as a hotel, and put some serious money into developing large AI probes to send to the planets to serach for life on Europa etc.

    If we are going to develop a large booster, the last thing we need it to do is to send people up in it.

    Large telescopes on the moon for multi-wave length astronomy or a nuclear submersible in Europa’s ocean is a lot more exciting to me that a couple of chuckle heads trying to fix a robot joint or getting the space toilet unplugged in the ISS.

  7. We invest all this money to get our stake in a joint-ISS only to have no presence once the thing is about finished. I don’t get it…except to say that it’s all about placing so much emphasis on a relationship between government and space exploration/development. This is what happens….

  8. I agree. The scumbags are the Democrat controlled U.S. Congress. Since the Dems captured control of the legislative branch in 2006 they said they “would end the war in Iraq”, and give “every American health care”.
    But what they only did was raise the minimum wage (good) and hold hearings on steroid use in baseball) BFD.

    We need to stay involved in the ISS. If we didn’t the whole country would be shocked at our motive as to why we abandon what we have sunk so much blood and treasure into.

  9. NASA had it coming! Bad planning. And the irony is that most of the ISS’s components were ferried using the Space Shuttle.
    There is a hope though. If ESA gets the 2 billion euros it needs for the Crew Transport Vehicle configuration of the ATV, Russians will not be a major player anymore.

  10. it appears that ‘return on investment’ is finally catching up to this ISS fantasy. Wait! Another senior moment! I forgot about the ‘military pork.’

  11. Perhaps it would be good after all. The next US governments may learn that they need international cooperation and may learn to not interfere in other’s nations affairs. The US attitude towards the Georgian conflict is completely regrettable.

  12. NASA needs to be NASA and the U.S. Government needs to be the U.S. Government. The two should have nothing to do with each other. I am so irritated by the Fact that Science has to be put on Hold for sake of POLITICS.

  13. The legecy of Bush the Lesser’s political games has yet more fallout. So what is to prevent Russia, or someone with the euros to pay Russia moving in and taking over the ISS?

  14. Foreign politics always bite us in the rear. Russians simply acting Russian is damn good reason for not leaving ISS access entirely in their hands no matter who is president.

    For what its worth the end of American access would spell the end of the space stations useful life and a major increase in its risks.
    Soyuz is not a fool proof launch system and we have no safe means of evacuation otherwise.

    Bad politics is one thing, but to have a massive structure like this bopping around unmanned and out of control is an unacceptable risk.

  15. It is a sad state of affairs. Who thought after the end of the cold war that we would still be at each others throats. I still believe that the only answer to our species survival is a United World. I hate to imply that something that was started in the Star Trek era is possibly the only way we will end our petty bickering and start cooperating. BTW I just read RK Jr.s’ book, Crimes Against Nature. What an eye opener; I think it should be required reading for every high school student. It is amazing how fascist governments, including ours, have twisted facts to keep its citizens in fear while the fat cats in the corporate world continue to rape the planet. If every American read this book I think there would be a call to arms against those who are pulling the strings in Washington. Democrats and Republicans alike share the blame. Ironically, as a Democrat, I keep wishing for the return of Richard M. Nixon…..

  16. George:

    I’d rather have 100+ dictatorships in opposition to each other.

    Forming a United World / world government is just a way of making it so all it takes is one bad dictatorship to take over, and before you know it:

    “If you want to know what humanity’s future will look like, just imagine a boot stamping on a human face for a thousand years.”

    Better that they be divided and with less power than united and with unlimited power.

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  20. this shows that 2012 is certainly an important period..its not a hoax..something is going to happen for sure..either staged or a real one..

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