Every dollar counts

By Charles Seife in Washington DC NASA plans to ask American taxpayers for $660 million to allow the cash-starved Russian Space Agency to complete its contribution to the International Space Station. But with members of Congress increasingly annoyed about the project’s spiralling costs, NASA is also scrambling for new sources of money. The first two components of the station, one Russian and one American, are expected to be launched on schedule in November and December. But the third component, the Russian service module, may not be ready in April as planned. “The Russians have stated that they expect a two-and-a-half month slip,” says NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown. The service module is crucial because it carries thrusters to keep the first segments of the station in their proper orbit. NASA’s bale-out package includes an initial $60 million to buy Russian space station hardware, including Soyuz re-entry vehicles. NASA officials hope that the package will also ensure speedy completion of the service module. But because the space station is so far over budget, NASA staff have been asked to come up with novel fund-raising ideas. “We said: `Let’s be creative here,'” says Brown. According to Science and Government Report, a science policy bulletin, a report to be submitted to NASA administrator Daniel Goldin suggests raising money from commercial sponsors by displaying corporate logos at NASA press conferences, offering Hollywood producers the opportunity to make movies aboard the station and even using it as a hotel. While Brown says that this article overstates NASA’s intentions, he confirms that billboard advertising at NASA events is addressed in the report. But some pundits argue that NASA has overlooked an obvious source of funding. One of the reasons that Congress financed the multi-billion-dollar project was that it would help occupy Russian engineers who might otherwise be transferring missile technology to North Korea and other potentially unfriendly states. “It’s an extension of the Department of Defense’s and the Department of State’s policy,” says Charles Vick, a research analyst with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington DC. But as yet, NASA has not asked for funding from these departments. Says Vick:
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