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New Changes Seen Hurting Space Station : NASA: White House plan to collaborate with Russia comes on eve of a critical Senate vote. Unanswered questions trouble lawmakers.

September 16, 1993|ROBERT W. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration's ambitious plan to collaborate with Russia on a radically different space station has put the controversial program in jeopardy once again on Capitol Hill.

On the eve of a critical Senate vote, some of the station's strongest supporters are voicing reservations about the Administration's decision to rework--for the second time in 90 days--plans for the long-delayed project.

Vice President Al Gore's announcement Sept. 2 of the Russian partnership has raised questions among members of Congress about the impact on the beleaguered American aerospace industry, already buffeted by cuts in defense spending. Lawmakers also are worried about the new station's cost, launch schedule and scientific capabilities.

The space station is critically important to the health of the Southern California aerospace industry, home to two of the project's principal contractors--McDonnell Douglas Aerospace in Huntington Beach and the Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International in Canoga Park.

"Is this a well-paced approach? I would say, 'No,' " said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Mikulski remains a strong supporter of the program, but she said she is concerned that "many of my colleagues are unclear about what this means." Senators who are wavering "will use this as an excuse" to vote against the program, she said.

On the House side, Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Colton), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a longtime champion of the space station, said he is "very concerned" about the uncertainties surrounding the plan to jointly build an orbiting space laboratory.

As Brown sees it, the station derives a significant amount of support from the idea that it would benefit American industry and advance the nation's technological interests.

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"The thing is so delicately balanced (in Congress) that if I and our committee were to decide that this is no longer a program in the national interest, it's dead, no matter what the Administration decides it would like to have," Brown said. "I don't put that out of the (realm) of possibility in the next several months."

The Senate is scheduled to vote next week on a $1.9-billion appropriation to continue the space station program next year. The House narrowly agreed to spend $2 billion on the project during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. A report on the final details of the Russian involvement in the space station program is not due until Nov. 1.

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