But, as the time to actually launch pieces of the giant station approaches, the Russian end of the deal is stuck on the ground.
The Russian economy has plunged so far that there's no money to keep space station production going. To meet approaching deadlines, U.S. space officials are now proposing to pay the Russians up to $660 million.
"It's basically like getting some repair work done on your house," said John Pike, a space policy expert. "Once the project is started, there's no way that you can stop it until the house is finally completed. And I think we're in the same situation with Russia."
Pressure on the U.S. to save the Russian space program is based in part on a simple fact: The station won't stay in orbit without the section the Russians are building. And two American-owned sections will have to be launched before the Russian section goes up.
U.S. officials also view the U.S.-Russian cooperation as a way to deny aggressor and terrorist nations advanced rocket technology.
"It's a lot cheaper for the United States to pay to keep those rocket scientists in Russia than for us to have to pick up the pieces if they all move to North Korea or Iran," Pike said.
The near catastrophe that almost overtook the Russian Mir spacecraft has made Congress increasingly leery of working with the Russians.
And NASA will be grilled hard when it asks for more money. But, with the launch of the first section of the space station only two months away, time favors a deal to keep the russian program limping along.
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