Saturday, July 25, 2015

Russia Extends Operation of the International Space Station Until 2024

Russian Progress and Soyuz spacecraft docked to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: ESA/NASA

The Russian government has accepted NASA’s proposal to prolong the life of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024. This decision ends fears that the tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine crisis would jeopardize NASA-Roscosmos space cooperation. "I have informed my colleagues that the Russian government has approved the operation of the ISS until 2024,” Roscosmos head Igor Komarov told a news conference on Thursday, July 23 after Wednesday's successful manned launch of the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft to the ISS. He added that political disagreements between the partner states have not affected the ISS program, acknowledging that outer space is a sphere where national and political interests were to be subordinated to common values.

“The approval of extended operation of ISS by the Russian and Canadian governments suggest that we will continue to move forward together [in space],” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, in response to Komarov's announcement.

Canada announced its will to prolong ISS operations until 2024 in April 2015. Other ISS partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), have not yet confirmed their extended participation.

Takashi Hamazaki of JAXA revealed that the Japanese government had not yet taken a final decision about extension of the ISS project. Japan wants to prolong its participation in the program but the issue is still under scrutiny.

In January 2014, NASA announced its intention to extend the ISS program beyond its original 2020 end date, but was waiting for partner agencies to receive permission from their governments. The Space Station costs several billion dollars to operate annually.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin rejected NASA’s proposal in May 2014 by saying that Russia would pull out of the program in 2020.

The ISS has been continuously occupied for over 14 years since the arrival of Expedition 1 in November 2000. Currently only Russian Soyuz spacecraft deliver crews to the orbital laboratory.

On Wednesday, Expedition 44 crew trio was launched to Space Station aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui arrived at the ISS on Thursday and will remain aboard the station until late December, conducting several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

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