WASHINGTON – NASA Administrator Mike Griffin credited Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama for spurring Congress to action on legislation allowing the U.S. space agency to buy the Russian Soyuz flights its needs to send astronauts to the international space station beyond 2011.


“I am deeply grateful to you, personally, for your leadership in supporting the difficult, but important, decision to extend NASA’s waiver to the Iran, Syria, North Korea Non-proliferation Act to allow the U.S. purchase of Russian Soyuz spacecraft after 2011,” Griffin said in an Oct. 2 letter to Obama. “This authority will allow the United States to continue transporting our astronauts to the international space station (ISS), honoring America’s commitment to provide transportation for crewmembers from Europe, Canada, and Japan and to ensure that ‘lifeboats’ are available at ISS in case of emergencies. The availability of this critical service from our Russian partners is vital to the United States as we retire the Space Shuttle and complete the development of the new generation of U.S human space flight capabilities.


“Without your leadership this would not have happened. Thank you,” Griffin concluded the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Space News.


NASA currently buys Russian Soyuz capsules and Progress cargo vehicles under a waiver to the non-proliferation law cited by Griffin, which bars the space agency from buying Russian space station hardware unless Russia does more to contain the spread of weapons technology. That waiver is set to expire at the end of 2011, and its chances of renewal were thrown into doubt after Russia invaded neighboring Georgia in August.


Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Sept. 22 urging approval of NASA’s request to extend the waiver. The next day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the International Space Station Payment Act of 2008 (S.3103) granting NASA permission to keep buying Soyuz beyond 2011.


Several days later, Congress added the Soyuz waiver provision to the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act for 2009, which U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law Sept. 30.