Sensenbrenner went on to state, "We all know the history of Russia's role in the International Space Station. Empty promise after empty promise. Broken pledge after broken pledge. Delay after delay. This program will be further delayed and cost even more if NASA and the White House do not do now what should have been done three years ago -- which is to remove the Russian government from the critical path." And almost every year, at least one Congressman has introduced legislation to cut off funding for the project.
This time around, House Speaker Newt Gingrich took NASA to task at a press conference on September 25 by accusing the agency of " slowing down the rate in which we've gotten into space" and "making space as boring as possible." The Georgia Republican also said the space station situation "is an absolute disaster...... in large part because this administration got off to a feel-good, manage-bad model."
Should the U.S. bail out Russia one more time or remove it from the space station program?
Is NASA responsible for the crisis?
Should the entire project be abandoned?
The one deadline that Russia now seems committed to keeping is to scuttle its creaky Mir space station, now essentially a joint U.S.-Russia project, next spring after 12 years in orbit. Earlier, Moscow had proposed extending Mir's lifetime for an additional six months because of the lagging space station. But on September 25, the Russian Space Agency's Gorbunov said that "whatever happens, Mir will definitely be brought down in the middle of 1999." The Russians plan to nudge Mir out of orbit and let it burn up over the oceans during reentry.
Mir's planned fiery demise will mark the end of humanity's longest tenure in space so far but it may be a mixed blessing. Many consider the aged station to be an accident waiting to happen and the removal of its financial burden may free up some scarce cash for the international space station.
Clearly, things have not turned out quite the way NASA space station program manager Randy Brinkley envisioned last January when he stated that "the year of the international space station is 1998" as the Zarya module began its journey from the assembly plant in Moscow to Baikonur for a June launch. Today, a clock on NASA's space station website continues to count down the days toward the scheduled November 20 liftoff, and a press release invites reporters to cover the increasingly unlikely event.