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Iran: The Mars Connection

Space Conference Attendees

Space aficionados gather in Graz old town, Austria, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program could cripple the International Space Station and it wouldn't need a nuclear weapon to do it. I came across this fact while working on our Iran nuclear story, which aired in May.

It turns out that legislation signed by Clinton just before he left office in 2000 prevents the U.S. from trading with countries found supplying nuclear weapons technology to Iran. It's no secret that in recent years Russia has been doing just that.

A Russian scientist told me that a Mars simulation was about to get underway in Moscow, where six volunteers will be locked inside a can together for 500 days.

Central Intelligence reports started surfacing in the mid-1990s showing that Russia was helping Iran develop a nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Southern Iran and that Russian assistance had "greatly accelerated" Iran's ballistic missile program.

The U.S. initially struck a deal with Russia to hire Soviet rocket scientists to work on the space station to stop them from being lured into developing illicit missile programs in rogue states. Ironically, renewed fears around the production of WMDs has put this partnership and work on the ISS in jeopardy.

After the broadcast, I decided to find out more and headed for Arnold Schwarzenegger's hometown of Graz in Austria to catch the end of an international space conference.

At the conference, organized by the International Academy of Astronautics, scientists told me there's only so much space simulation they can do on earth and that the ISS is a vital part of sending the first manned mission to Mars. It's a prospect that captivates the space community and one that had this gathering fired up with possibilities.

While there, I had lunch with a social psychologist who had just spent the last couple weeks in a capsule in the Utah desert, and a Russian scientist told me that a Mars simulation was about to get underway in Moscow, where six volunteers will be locked inside a can together for 500 days -- the time it would take to travel to the Red Planet and back.

When I brought up the subject of Iran, a NASA official who didn't want to be named, confirmed that the agency was no longer allowed to make payments to the Russian Space Agency because of the Iran Non-Proliferation Act signed by Clinton. He told me that the future of American space science is now in the hands of politicians.

I also talked with Valery Bogomolov, a science director at Russia's leading institute for spaceflight medicine, about the legislation's impact on the once blossoming cosmic venture between Russia and the U.S.

"As a scientist, I am very worried about the future of the program," he told me. When a person is sent into space today, he goes as an individual, he explained. Governments should support him and not let partisan politics get in the way.

With the U.S. space shuttle program grounded since the Columbia tragedy in 2003, the only launches carrying astronauts between earth and the orbiting space station have been flights of the Russian-made Soyuz space capsule, which were exempted under the Clinton ruling. During the last few years, these flights have literally kept the station in business. But after October 2005, when the last of 11 scheduled Soyuz missions are launched, the future looks uncertain for this highly ambitious space venture.