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NASA to pull out of International Space Station?


MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov) - The International Space Station seems set to become a purely Russian venture.

Despite declarations to the contrary, it seems that the United States is likely to pull out in the near future.

Europe may retain its interest, however, as the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to send its Jules Verne Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to the ISS.

In the two months since new NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was appointed, the United States has given virtually no assurances of its continued commitment to the ISS. On the contrary, Griffin told USA Today on June 22 that the NASA would not be able to fulfill all of its previous commitments on completing the program.

Griffin admitted that NASA cannot currently guarantee the launch of all remaining ISS modules, largely because implementation of President George W. Bush's new ambitious space doctrine, which includes manned flights to the Moon and Mars, means NASA is unable to fly the planned 28 space-shuttle missions to the ISS. According to Griffin, a specially convened NASA expert group is currently revising U.S. commitments to the program, a process that should be completed in early fall.

NASA is unlikely to withdraw from the ISS immediately, but it may do so more gradually. The long-awaited first space-shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster of February 1, 2003, is unlikely to change anything. Experts say shuttle flights will not help the ISS much, because 28 flights are not enough. In short, currently nothing is up for discussion.

Moreover, it seems that NASA has failed to meet all safety recommendations made since the Columbia tragedy, according to a 26-member task force headed by former astronauts Richard Covey and Thomas Stafford.

Only 12 out of 15 accident-avoidance modifications have been introduced into the Discovery shuttle's design. The orbiter itself is not yet strong enough, and NASA has been unable to eliminate the possibility of ice, foam and other materials breaking off from the main fuel tank and inflicting considerable damage. Finally, there is no system for making sophisticated in-orbit repairs.

For Russia, such circumstances are nothing new, and it seems that the country will have to fly ISS resupply missions once again.

At the Le Bourget aerospace show in mid-June, Federal Space Agency head Anatoly Perminov said it would be impossible to sustain the ISS completely, unless space-shuttle flights were resumed. According to Perminov, some ISS modules can only be delivered aboard U.S. space shuttles.

Late last year, Perminov said the FSA was looking into ways to implement the program on its own. His deputy, Alexander Medvedchikov, said in early June that Russia could sustain the ISS using Kliper spacecraft, currently in development, if the United States quits the program.

"As you know, we are also looking into the future," he said. "Russia is developing the Kliper reusable spacecraft. This is why we will be ready, if something happens, and if the United States withdraws from the program."

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