If the Russian space agency does not place an overdue major component of the international space station in orbit by this summer, the United States will send up a custom-fitted substitute to ensure that work on the station continues, NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said Thursday.
"We are at the moment of truth," Goldin told reporters. "It is up to the Russians to demonstrate to America and the other international partners their commitment to the international space station."
Goldin's remarks followed Russia's surprise announcement late last month that it will revive the aging Mir space station that was abandoned by cosmonauts in August. That effort presumably would draw essential resources and personnel away from Russia's promised but delayed contribution to the new international station: the service module containing crew quarters and other facilities, which was to have been aloft last summer.
NASA concluded that if the operation of Mir interferes with the Russian commitment, the United States is prepared to put an interim control module in orbit as early as December. That unit is designed to give the station temporary propulsion and position control.
The $200-million component would have to be custom-configured to fit into the station. But NASA has been under heavy pressure from Congress to devise contingency plans in the event of a Russian default, and Goldin said a schedule is already in place to make the change.
Goldin also acknowledged that the United States had fallen behind schedule on some of its own commitments, such as completion of the lab module, which is about a year late.
"Mir' is resupplied
MOSCOW _ A Russian cargo ship flawlessly hooked up Thursday with the Mir space station, which has been orbiting unmanned since August, bringing vital supplies for a new mission set to blast off March 31 and last at least 45 days.
"Endeavour' to launch Feb. 11
CAPE CANAVERAL _ NASA on Thursday set Feb. 11 for space shuttle Endeavour's next launch attempt. An unreliable computer prevented Endeavour from blasting off Monday on an Earth-mapping mission.