Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New Scientist: "Hope for man stuck in space"

Stranded American astronaut Bill McArthur may finally be able to return home from the International Space Station after US policymakers agreed to change a law preventing NASA from purchasing rides on Russian spacecraft.

In 2000, the US passed the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA), which was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear technologies from Russia to Iran. One clause makes it illegal for the US to pay for rides to the ISS unless the White House is satisfied that Russia is not selling nuclear technologies to Iran.

Since then, a pact between NASA and the Russian Space Agency, made before the INA was passed, has permitted Russia to provide 11 Soyuz spacecraft for astronauts and cosmonauts to reach the station. But the last of those was launched in September, with McArthur on board. It is due to return to Earth in April, but possibly without McArthur.

With the shuttles grounded, McArthur's predicament has forced a rethink...On 26 October, the US House of Representatives decided to change the act to allow further Soyuz flights.

But if the details are not ironed out in time, McArthur may still have to wait for the next space shuttle, currently expected to launch no earlier than May.

From issue 2524 of New Scientist magazine, 05 November 2005, page 4


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