THE Hubble repair team's magnificent performance showed that weightless space-suited humans can do complex work in orbit. That's a step toward showing that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration can build its proposed space station.
Now it's time to take the next step: forming a full working partnership with Russia. The future of the space station - even of manned spaceflight itself - now depends on it.
It's clear that manned spaceflight must become truly international, and it is already moving strongly in that direction. The Hubble team included astronaut Claude Nicollier of the European Space Agency (ESA), which paid 15 percent of the telescope's $1.6 billion original cost and 5.7 percent of the $721 million total cost of the repair mission. Moreover, Canada, ESA, and Japan already are partners with the United States in the station program. Now these partners have formally invited Russia to join them.
The station is unlikely to be built without strong Russian participation. Manned space flight has become too costly for the US to pursue either on its own or with help from Europe and Japan. Russia's well-honed spaceflight skills and time-tested hardware are needed to spread the burden.
How these will be paid for is unclear. Russia has no spare cash. But ``in kind'' contributions of personnel and hardware can be substantial.
Cost-sharing and confidence in Russia's ability to maintain a strong space program are sticky issues. America's space partners have had reservations on both counts, as have many members of the US Congress. President Clinton and Vice President Gore have persuaded both the partners and congressional leaders that it is in everyone's interest to move forward with the Russians.
Nevertheless, skepticism remains in the background. This is healthy to the extent that it keeps negotiations with Russia realistic. But the Western partners should not let needless negativism sour the discussions.
Meanwhile, two of the Russian Space Agency's outstanding cosmonauts, Sergei Krikalev and Vladimir Titov, have been working hard at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They will be well integrated into the space shuttle team when Discovery carries Cosmonaut Krikalev into orbit while his fellow cosmonaut works in Mission Control. It is the first opportunity to show how well spaceflight skills developed in two different traditions blend to form a single smooth-running team.