The Russian aerospace agency (Roskosmos) and NASA are still trying to strike a bargain on renewal of the Space Shuttle missions to the International Space Station.
Americans recently announced that the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery scheduled for May 22nd would be delayed yet another time. Commenting on the delay, a spokesperson for Roskosmos said that Russia might stop using its vehicles for sending American astronauts to the ISS unless the American side started to meet its contractual obligations.
The Space Shuttle missions were put on hold following the Discovery disaster in the winter of 2003. Russia had to bear all financial burden relating to supply and ferry missions to the ISS. Every launch costs Roskosmos a hefty sum of money and therefore Russia kept on putting pressure on its partners urging them to resume missions.
There was some progress in the talks for the Space Shuttle missions renewal after the Americans received the demands from the Russians to recover their costs incurred due to the Space Shuttle missions' delays. As a result, the Americans promised to send the Space Shuttle Discovery to the ISS this May. But the plan had to be scrapped due the replacement of a main fuel tank on Discovery. The spacecraft will be removed from the launch pad for the operation. Subsequently, the ship is expected to lift off in mid July at the earliest. The Americans believe that a Russian re-supply ship Progress should deliver fresh water and fuel to the ISS until the Discovery setbacks are fixed. NASA’s Director General Michael Griffin said that the agency wanted to restart launching Space Shuttle program ASAP because the program was essential for further construction of the International Space station. Meanwhile, he pointed out that issues pertaining to a crew's safety were paramount.
Representatives of Roskosmos doubted sincerity of its American partners. According to Alexei Krasnov, chief of the Roskosmos' department of manned fight programs, Soyuz taxi vehicles will ferry only Russian crews to the ISS from the year 2006 onward.
"We still count on the latest NASA's timetable for the Space Shuttle missions, we expect the Americans to deliver their crews to the ISS by using the Space Shuttle as planned," said he. Roskosmos also intends to bring changes with regard to crew's working time distribution on board the ISS. "We believe we should change the working time distribution in 2006 because the Americans have a lot of assembly and maintenance work planned for the next year and therefore we would not like to run into a situation when our crews will have to spend all their time carrying out our partners' projects," said Mr. Krasnov.
It is unlikely that the West will lose sleep over the above threats. Western partners involved in the ISS project were building their station modules on the ground as Russia was spending funds on off-schedule launches. When it is about time they delivered the modules to the ISS, the Space Shuttle missions will be resumed. American, European, and Japanese astronauts will be conducting full-scale research in their ISS modules while Russia will finally start looking for funds to complete the construction of its module. At the moment, Russia has only a service module and a docking module in space.