US and Russia link up in space: Boost for Nasa on eve of Hubble repair mission

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The Independent Online
THE United States and Russia will jointly construct an orbiting space station after President Bill Clinton persuaded congressional critics to support the project. In return for the deal, Russia promised to sign an agreement controlling the export of its missile technology and cancel a dollars 400m ( pounds 272m) order for such technology from India.

The go-ahead came after Mr Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for a joint venture with Russia at a meeting with key members of Congress. Bringing in Russia - which already has the space station Mir in orbit, should save the United States dollars 2bn when work starts in 1997.

Vice-President Al Gore says he will sign an agreement on the space station when he visits Moscow in two weeks time. Presenting the decision as a concrete way of using missiles developed during the Cold War for peaceful purposes, officials say the US-Russia space station partnership 'has passed the final hurdle'.

As well as underlining US support for President Boris Yeltsin - a central theme of President Clinton's foreign policy - the joint venture, in which the Europeans, Japan and Canada are also involved, will boost Nasa, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The space agency needs all the backing from the White House and Congress that it can get after the fiasco of the dollars 1.6bn Hubble space telescope, whose famously faulty mirror has gravely damaged Nasa's reputation.

The space shuttle Endeavour, with seven astronauts on board, was scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida this morning with the mission of making complicated repairs to Hubble. Its launch was delayed for 24 hours by high crosswinds at an emergency landing strip. Over 11 days the crew of the Endeavour will install corrective optics as well as new solar panels, gyroscopes and a computer in the space telescope.

Launched in 1990, the Hubble, billed by Nasa as the greatest advance in astronomy since Galileo, was intended to view stars and galaxies a hundred times more clearly than from Earth. Almost immediately, however, space agency scientists discovered that Hubble's 94-inch primary mirror had been ground to the wrong shape and would not focus properly.

Failure to detect such a glaring error and Hubble's many other ailments have led to growing doubts about Nasa's competence. A successful repair mission will help restore its reputation, but a joint venture with the Russians should make Congress more sympathetic in providing funds to Nasa by linking the long- planned space station with a primary foreign policy goal.

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