To be or not to be… shall the International Space Station (ISS) be operational after 2015? The space agencies participating in this project discussed this serious question in Paris. They came to the conclusion that there are substantial reasons to believe that the ISS can remain operational until 2020. It is difficult to overestimate the value of the work done by the ISS, and much labour and money has been invested in it by various European, Asian, and North American states. The main result of all of this is that we have an international research station in orbit around the Earth. In the words of Andrei Perminov, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, “Today, we all agreed that we should go to our respective governments and request that all national space agencies continue work on the ISS until at least 2020”.
The ISS has had many different crews by now; it has become a comfortable and well-equipped multi-functional space platform for the work of physicists and other scientists. If the operation of the station is extended another five years, Russia shall delay three additional research modules until 2011, so that it can prepare a new energy module for the craft, which shall provide more flexibility for it. France agrees with Russia’s position on the extension of the ISS mission. Valerie Pecresse, the French Minister of Scientific Studies, stated his opinion clearly in the French press. “Despite the fact that the USA shall end its space shuttle missions in 2010 for the delivery of cosmonauts and supplies, we shall be able to use Russian craft and the unmanned ATS vehicle of the EU”.
This year, there has been significant work done on re-equipping the ISS. For example, the European laboratory module Columbus, the Japanese scientific research module Kibo, and the Canadian manipulator Dexter have been added. So far in 2008, there have been seven flights of various spacecraft to the ISS. Some experts see that the position of the USA towards the ISS is changing. Possibly, this is the end result of the clash of different interest groups with differing views on the future of national cosmonautics. Some are sceptical of the whole enterprise, viewing it as not too useful and overly-expensive. In its stead, they propose diverting funding to lunar and Mars missions. Moreover, the US presidential elections are forthcoming, and it is unknown what the future policy shall be towards space programmes. However, it is obvious that the ISS is necessary to all the partners, and without continuing cooperation on its operation, it shall hardly be of use to anyone.
23 July 2008
Voice of Russia World Service