Because the American fleet of space shuttles will be retired in 2010 and the United States won't have a replacement ready until at least 2015, NASA wants to negotiate a contract this year to have Russia's Soyuz spacecraft transport all astronauts traveling to and from the station during the gap.
But first, Congress has to pass a waiver to a 2000 law forbidding government contracts with nations that help Iran and North Korea with their nuclear programs, as Russia has done. Even before the Georgia incursion, the bill faced strong opposition, and key members said this week that the chances of granting a waiver now are slim.
"In an election year, it was going to be very difficult to get that waiver to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to an increasingly aggressive Russia, where the prime minister is acting more and more like a czar," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "Now, I'd say it's almost impossible."
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