June 16, 2009

ESA Chief Hoping To Extend Life Of International Space Station

The European Space Agency on Tuesday announced plans for "new flight opportunities" coinciding with the completion of the International Space Station in 2010.

Following 12 years of construction and upgrades, the ISS is set to be completed next year. However, missions to the orbiting outpost are scheduled to end in 2015.

Speaking with AFP during the Paris Air Show, ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said the agency is hoping to extend the life of the space station and add extra seats for European astronauts on future missions.

"From a technical standpoint we are working on keeping the station alive at least up to 2025," ESA's director of human spaceflight, Simonetta di Pippo told AFP.

"It is clear that if an extension in the lifespan of the station is agreed by partners and member-states of Europe, this will become the reality for them to fly and to fly quite soon... and this will allow them to fly at least once."

Europe is searching for a reliable way to transport its astronauts to and from the space station, but therein lies part of the problem.

NASA is set to retire its space shuttle fleet in 2010, and developments on its replacement, called Aries-Orion, aren't expected to be finished before 2015.

The space shuttle retirement would leave Russia's Soyuz as the only option for ESA to send crewmembers to the space station until the US completed Aries-Orion.

Dordain told AFP that the agency was in talks with Russia and the US to try to claim seats on future missions for European astronauts. In May, ESA announced its newest class of astronauts, consisting of five men and one woman.

"I cannot tell you yet what will be the final scenario but we are working on certain tracks," he said.

"We are discussing with not only the United States and Russia but also maybe the other partners, because Japan and Canada, they are like us, they are also missing some flight opportunities and maybe we can combine our efforts to buy an additional three seats."

Dordain said all of the new astronauts will spend time in space, but it is still unclear which missions they will be aboard.

"They will all fly, that is a commitment," he said. "If we have selected six, it's because we are convinced they will all fly.


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