Russian Space Station Extension? Don’t Count On It Yet, NASA Head Says

The International Space Station as seen by the departing STS-134 crew aboard space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011. Credit: NASA

TORONTO, CANADA – NASA isn’t “reading too much” into a report that the Russians will spend $8 billion on the International Space Station through 2025, the head of the agency says. That date is five years past the international agreements to operate the space station.

The Russian announcement comes at a pivotal time for NASA, which is looking to extend operations on the station to at least 2024. Other space agency heads have not yet signed on. Russia is the major partner for NASA on the station, given it operates several modules and sends astronauts to and from Earth on Soyuz spacecraft.

When deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin made the funding announcement, said NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Rogozin was speaking of a budget request that is before the State Duma. The Duma is Russia’s lower house of government.

“I am told that’s why he said that,” Bolden said at a press conference yesterday (Sept. 29) for the International Astronomical Congress, citing a conversation he had with Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s human exploration associate administrator. “You shouldn’t read too much into that.”

Canadarm2, the huge robotic arm on the International Space Station holds astronaut Stephen Robinson during the STS-114 mission. Credit: NASA
Canadarm2, the huge robotic arm on the International Space Station, holds astronaut Stephen Robinson during the STS-114 mission. Credit: NASA

Other member agencies of the space station gave noncommittal responses when asked if they would sign on to an extension.

“The [European] member states will be invited to give their views on what [to do] after 2020,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, who heads the European Space Agency. He added that any extension would require a financial commitment, as an agreement without money is “only principles.”

Similarly, Canadian Space Agency chief Walter Natynczyk said the money allocated to his agency will bring them through to 2020, but “we will have a look at the entire value proposition when we put a case before the government of Canada.”

The Russian agreement with NASA came under scrutiny earlier this year as tensions erupted in Ukraine while Russian soldiers were in the country. This year, Ukrainian Crimea was annexed to Russia to the condemnation of several countries, including the United States.

While Bolden has said relations with the Russians for the space station are still healthy, NASA suspended most science ties with the country in April. In response, Rogozin wrote a frustrated tweet saying NASA should try to send its astronauts into space using a trampoline.