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As the International Space Station nears its 10th anniversary on November
As the International Space Station nears its 10th anniversary on November 20, all the members of this unique research program seem to have overwhelmingly come out for it.

The United States, which has been skeptical about it, has suddenly developed an interest, especially in how its crews are to be taken to the station after its Space Shuttle program winds up in 2010.

Unfortunately, the renewed American interest in the ISS is neither because of concern for the station's future, nor because of the coming anniversary. The cause was provided by the Caucasian crisis. And had it not happened, the American participation in the program would have ended quietly, despite all assurances to the contrary.

But what has so agitated NASA in recent weeks? The future of the station itself or of its largest, American, segment? Neither. The Americans are horrified at the prospect of dealing with the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) one-to-one, when it becomes the only crew carrier for the ISS. NASA's shuttles are expected to retire in 2010, while the new ship, Orion, is not scheduled to enter service until 2015. For five years the Americans will have to go to Russia cap-in-hand.

In fact, the United States raised this issue before the outbreak of hostilities in the Caucasus. NASA director Michael Griffin was many times quoted as saying that America would fall under Russia's thumb when the Space Shuttle program bowed out. And that, he said, could deprive the U.S. of trump cards in its diplomatic game with Russia.

The Georgian attack mixed up all cards, at least in space. So much so that both presidential hopefuls decided to make space research a plank of their respective electoral platforms.

John McCain was the first to do so. Together with two other Republican senators, he urged President George W. Bush not to delay the retirement of the shuttles to reduce the possibility of dependence on Russia.

He was unlikely to have been unaware of NASA' own initiatives as he appealed to the president. By the end of September Griffin had ordered a review of possible retirement dates for shuttles. What the outcome will be is difficult to judge. But one thing is clear: the Americans do not want to be left without a fleet of manned space vehicles of their own.

In this context the Russian-American talks on using Soyuz rockets to carry American crews to the station that concluded at the end of August were a mere formality. Viktor Ramishevsky, deputy head of Roscosmos, said "it is practically sewn up that American astronauts will travel to the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft." But he added that the timeline of the agreement was not yet defined.

He also said "no one will abandon the station if for some reason one of the states stops visiting it."

The Americans are not eager to reveal the details of their space cooperation with Russia. They have plenty of irons in the fire as it is, and the Space Shuttle program seems to be one of them.

But what has all this to do with ISS activities, at least from an American point of view? In all probability, nothing. Although the American administration declared the station a "national laboratory," NASA has set its sights elsewhere. The Moon and Mars dominate NASA's politics and economy.

The agency is not particularly secretive about its other plans. The station's future, therefore, calls for no special consideration. A year or so ago, according to NASA officials, the agency negotiated with some public and private bodies the use of the American segment of the station for micro-gravity research, starting in 2010.

Well done, the Americans. Building high-end premises and letting them out to prospective users, while they themselves proceed further.

And questions about what their partners should do and who really needs the ISS are not for them to answer.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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