Amid concerns about Russian delays in the production of hardware for the International Space Station (ISS), NASA has paid Moscow an additional $20 million to support further joint missions aboard the Mir 1 space station in 1998.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin has called the funding "seed money" to assist Russian factories to become fully operational to supply modules to the ISS.

There have been five Shuttle Mir Missions (SMM) so far, and the SMM 6 and 7 flights are planned for May and September. Beyond that, the SMM8/STS 89/Discovery in January 1998, equipped with a Spacehab double-module and 2,500kg of science and logistics equipment, will deliver astronaut David Wolf. He will replace Wendy Lawrence (to be launched on the SMM 7 in September) for a long-duration shift aboard the Mir. The SMM 9/STS91/Discovery, due for launch in September 1998, will have a Spacehab single module and about 2,500kg of equipment. There will also be a possible long-duration stay aboard the Mir by an astronaut, James Voss, replacing Wolf.

Russia, which already depends enormously on the NASA SSM missions to keep the ageing Mir 1 station operational, has been given a deadline of 28 February by the USA to produce the funds to build its Service Module for the ISS. Russia's status could otherwise be reduced to that of a subcontractor, the ISS redesigned, and launches re-manifested. It is estimated that Russia needs at least $350 million this year to meet its commitments.

NASA is now coming under pressure from the US Congress, which is losing patience with the Russians. For the first time since 1994, the ISS is again coming under close political scrutiny.

The Russian Service Module was to have been launched in April 1998 and be the third major component of the ISS after the November launch of the Russian FGB propulsion module (built under a $200 million contract) and the December launch of the US Node 1 module. This would have allowed independent manned capability in May 1998.

The Service Module is over eight months behind schedule, however, and the USA may be forced to launch a new $100 million Interim Control Module to sustain the ISS orbit until the Service Module arrives.

Other options are to delay the Space Shuttle launch of the first US components to mid-1998 (involving a re-manifest of launches), drop Russia and build a US propulsion module costing $200 million, or buy an FGB 2 from Russia for about $100 million.

Source: Flight International