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ISS looks to the future


By Belle Dumé

The Heads of the International Space Station (ISS) agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the US met at European Space Agency (ESA) Headquarters in Paris yesterday as part of the ongoing meetings to celebrate the Space Station’s 10th anniversary, which is this year. I went along to find out what they have planned for ISS from now until 2015, and perhaps beyond.

Emphasis was clearly on collaboration with a capital “C”. ISS Partners seem to be very happy with what is the world’s biggest peacetime scientific cooperation to date, which is something that they can be proud of.

The Heads said ISS will continue in its role as “test-bed” for future space exploration and research and development in space.

New modules, including Japan’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, US Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and US Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, together with current vehicles, US Shuttle (up to 2010), Russian Soyuz and Progress, and ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) were discussed.

The Heads then spoke about new initiatives, such as ESA’s plan for an ATV-Advanced Return Vehicle system for down-mass from ISS and Russia-ESA joint preparatory activities on an advanced Crew Space Transportation System.

They are also considering how best to take advantage of an increased six-man crew in 2009.

ISS should be complete by 2010 but the Heads are already looking to post-ISS times — and mentioned a possible international lunar colony.

And to round off the press conference, a surprise for us journalists: a live audio link with astronauts onboard the ESA Jules Vernes ATV, which is cargo carrier, storage facility and “tug” vehicle that raises the Space Station’s orbit every so often. The astronauts had taken original manuscripts from the pioneering 19th century science fiction writer, after whom the spacecraft is named, with them into space and proudly showed these to us in a separate video.

The audio link with ESA headquarters and the Jules Verne was also a link between the past and future, and dreams and reality, said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain as he referred to Verne’s extraordinary vision in books like From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Around the Moon (1870).

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