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Multi-Nation Summit Of Space Agency Heads Reflects

By | July 21, 2008

      Opposition To Early International Space Station Retirement

      Five global space-program leaders voiced concern that the International Space Station (ISS) should be operational through the end of the next decade at least, instead of retiring by 2016 as current U.S. official plans envision.

      They also outlined plans to ensure that there will be sufficient spacecraft to move personnel and cargo to the space station after the U.S. space shuttle fleet retires by October 2010.

      Those participating in the space station program — Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States — don’t wish to see an immense, and immensely valuable, scientific asset chucked into the cosmic dustbin just because ISS funding could be cut to save money.

      Attending the meeting of the International Space Station Heads of Agency in Paris were NASA Administrator Michael Griffin; Guy Bujold, Canadian Space Agency president; Jean- Jacques Dordain, European Space Agency (ESA) director-general; Anatolii N. Perminov, Russian Federal Space Agency head; and Keiji Tachikawa, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency president.

      Construction of the space station will be complete in 2010, with the last of the U.S. space shuttle flights that have hauled gigantic components into orbit to assemble the artificial moon.

      Scores of astronauts and cosmonauts have manned the station continuously in its years of construction, including times when the building project has been slowed by space shuttle disasters.

      Now, space agency leaders involved in the station are voicing concern that the station might have a useful life of only about half a decade beyond its completion, before the 2015 official retirement date. The hope is that it could continue flying at least until 2020, or later.

      In a statement released after their meeting, the agency leaders stated that "as the partnership moves closer to completion of ISS assembly, [they] reaffirmed their common interest in utilizing the space station to its full capacity for a period meaningful for stakeholders and users."

      Specifically, the leaders noted that "a continuation of operations beyond 2015 would not be precluded by any significant technical challenges. Recognizing the substantial programmatic benefits to continued ISS operations and utilization beyond the current planning horizon, the [space program leaders] committed to work with their respective governments to assess support for such a goal."

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