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WASHINGTON -- The chill left on US-Russian relations by Moscow's military incursion into Georgia could spell problems for future US access to the International Space Station, US experts said. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will become dependent on flights to the ISS by Russia's Soyuz spacecraft when it retires the shuttle fleet that has long ferried US astronauts into space in 2010. NASA will only get its successor space vehicle, Orion, planned for a revival of trips to the moon, ready for flight in 2015 at the earliest.
Because the ISS needs someone aboard all the time to keep it going, the situation, Nelson said, would mean leaving the station to "degrade and burn up on reentry, or with us ceding it to those who can get there." NASA's chief Michael Griffin told AFP just days before the Georgia conflict erupted that it was a "great concern" that something could happen to make Soyuz unavailable. "If anything at all in that five years period goes wrong with the Russian Soyuz, then we have no system to access the space station."