WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- A new partnership between Persian Gulf allies of the United States and Russia is needed to pump money into the International Space Station, which is facing a $5 billion shortfall, the chairman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee said Wednesday.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., told a Senate roundtable sponsored by Pro-Space, a space advocacy group, such partnerships would be able to provide components of the space station the United States cannot afford and added he would urge Russian space contractors to form alliances with "our Gulf War allies."
President Bush has ordered cutbacks in station construction because of the funding problem.
"Persian Gulf countries might be interested in contributing to the station, but don't have any capability to manufacture anything," Rohrabacher said. "Why can't they contract with Russia? Why can't we have our friends in the Gulf build with Russia those Soyuz escape vehicles?"
Rohrabacher also suggested Italy and Ireland were ready to propose new elements of the station design that could alleviate some of the cost crunch.
"I've asked two countries, Italy and Ireland, if they'd be interested in contributing to the station," he said.
He claimed the Italian government might be able to contribute space station components or other services that could cut the project's costs by $1.5 billion. Ireland analyzed its potential future role and suggested it could be worth $200 million.
"Of course, they will both want something" for their contributions, Rohrabacher suggested. That most likely would be a requirement that "whatever they provide be built in their countries."
The California congressman acknowledged his suggestions would face opposition from some at NASA. "We have to bring a new perspective that will add something," he said. "We are facing a crisis in so many ways, including a crisis of the International Space Station."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., warned if additional funds or other methods to relieve NASA's budget shortfalls are not found, ensuring the safety of the space shuttle could drain dollars away from the space station project and threaten its future.
"NASA's budget is literally being starved," Nelson said. He said the need for increased spending for national security in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks should not impact the space program.
"If we are going to complete this project, we have got to find the money somewhere," Nelson added. "I'm not going to let a bunch of grizzly terrorists be allowed to sidetrack our future."
The space agency also was working to develop new ways to attract commercial users to the station to offset some of the project's operational costs.
"We have an enhanced strategy in preparation that has a greater inclusion of the private sector (in the space station)," said George Baker, a senior NASA advisor. "This broader private sector involvement would risk private capital and not government funds," in commercial ventures.
The unlikely combination of new foreign partners and private industry to save the space station would have been considered unlikely just a few years ago, Rohrabacher said.
"But we must be bold -- don't be afraid to think or express ideas that someone might think are foolish," he said.