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ZVEZDNY GORODOK, Moscow region, October 18 (Itar-Tass) —— The last manned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2011 is scheduled for December 21, head of the Agency’s manned programs Alexei Krasnov said at the opening of the Space Forum 2011 on Tuesday.
Initially, the launch was due on December 26 but some ISS partners said they were unwilling to celebrate Christmas at the Baikonur spaceport, he said. “So, we hope for the soonest launch. Everything will depend on the readiness of the Soyuz engines,” he said.
The task is not easy because Baikonur has a tight schedule of space launches in December 2011. “The Federal Space Agency will have to fit the Soyuz launch with the 30th/31st expeditions to the ISS into the tight schedule. Manned missions always have a priority,” Krasnov said.
Soyuz TMA-03M will take aboard Oleg Kononenko of Russia, Donald Pettit of NASA and Andrei Kuipers of the European Space Agency (ESA).
The Federal Space Agency aims to provide the functioning of the ISS until 2028, Krasnov said.
“The partners have decided that the ISS will operate longer than it was planned initially [until 2015], no less than until 2020,” he said. “The Federal Space Agency has the goal of extending the ISS operation to 30 years, until 2028.”
The ISS will be used both as a unique research laboratory and an assembly dock. It may assemble spaceships, which will start their missions from the Earth orbit and return either to the Earth or to the circumterrestrial space. “All we have to do is to choose our destinations,” Krasnov said.
The ISS project partners “will agree to a common vision of the development of manned space programs and goals of international cooperation in space,” he said.
NASA astronaut Mark Polansky said that mankind had stayed on low orbits for too long and would now move farther, to other planets. In his words, NASA closed the space shuttle program for reaching the far space. It attaches large importance to the ISS project, primarily the new knowledge vital for far space travels, so NASA will meet its ISS commitments until 2020, Polansky said.
Martin Zell, the head of the European Space Agency (ESA) Research Operations Department, said that the ISS project was of huge importance to the agency.
Extension of the ISS partnership until 2020 or even longer is a priority of the ESA, he said.
The agency is inspired by the scientific research program of the Columbus module and the increasing role of European astronauts in the functioning of the entire International Space Station, Zell said.
The ESA, the same as NASA and the Federal Space Agency, is thinking about far space flights, so it is interested in the development of prospective space ships, Zell said.
Everyone views the ISS as the starting point of far space voyages, he said.
The ISS is a joint project between the five participating space agencies, the American NASA, the Russian Roskosmos (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA, the European ESA, and the Canadian CSA. The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements which divide the station into two areas and allow the Russian Federation to retain full ownership of Russian Orbital Segment (ROS).
On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled for completion by mid-2012. The station is expected to remain in operation until at least 2015, and likely 2028. With a greater cross-sectional area than that of any previous space station, the ISS can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The ISS is by far the largest artificial satellite that has ever orbited Earth. The ISS serves as a research laboratory that has a microgravity environment in which crews conduct experiments in biology, chemistry, medicine, physiology and physics, as well as astronomical and meteorological observations. The station provides a unique environment for the testing of the spacecraft systems that will be required for missions to the Moon and Mars.