SPURRED on by early Russian achievements, the United States space program came alive in the 1960s. Now the continued vitality of both space programs depends on cooperation between these former rivals. This makes 1994 a pivotal year for spaceflight generally.
The agreements on expanded cooperation that US Vice President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed last month in Moscow must be made to work this year. Otherwise, they will lack credibility. And if the Russian and American programs falter, other spacefaring nations such as Japan and the members of the European Space Agency also will lose heart.
Success of the new partnership is not guaranteed. Although it cuts expenses for each partner, it will still cost a great deal of money. Russia has little of that and the US is in a pinch-penny mood.
The Clinton administration reportedly will ask for $250 million less for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in fiscal 1995 than the $14.55 billion the agency has this year. That is certain to crimp other NASA programs - especially space science programs - as NASA tries to hold up its share of what now is an international space-station project that includes Russia as a full participant. On top of this, there is a demanding series of joint shuttle and Mir space station missions to be carried out beginning next year.
It's hard to see how NASA can do all this, maintain vigor in its other space efforts, and cut its budget at the same time.
One indication of the crunch: Budget cuts have already forced the agency to close the kind of spare-parts procurement program that enabled it to quickly replace the orbiter it lost in the 1986 Challenger accident. This is in spite of the fact that the shuttle is the key factor in NASA's spaceflight plans.
US space-policy leader Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D) of California typifies a widely held sentiment when he says Congress will kill the space station if the partnership doesn't work out. At the same time, he adds that Congress will not tolerate continued cutting of space science projects to feed the station budget.
This puts the onus squarely on the administration to come up with a balanced program and a sustainable budget for NASA that will make the Russian partnership work and satisfy congressional concerns.