- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 20 (UPI) — With the shuttle fleet grounded for the foreseeable future, Russia is seeking additional funding from Europe to pay for extra servicing missions to the International Space Station, the head of the Russian space agency said Thursday.

"If the ISS is to (maintain) a crew of three, four Russian spacecraft will have to be launched this year instead of the originally expected three," said Yuri Koptov, head of the Rosaviakosmos space agency.

In exchange for European funding, Koptov offered to fly European astronauts on long-duration space missions, a slot currently filled only by U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts.

U.S. law intended to stem the transfer of weapons technology to adversaries prohibits the direct financing of Russian spaceships.

At a news conference Thursday, NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe downplayed concerns the United States could find its presence aboard the space station diminished.

"How we treat each other and work through this in times of challenge like we see today is the reason why this kind of partnership was put together," said O'Keefe.

O'Keefe said discussions about how to manage the space station's limited resources and crew assignments are still pending. Among the considerations is flying a two-person caretaker crew to reduce the amount of water needed aboard the outpost.

Koptov, however, said a two-member expedition crew is scheduled to fly to the space station in early May and that the names of the cosmonauts would be announced in two weeks, the Tass news agency reports.

Koptov also said budget shortfalls in Russia will force the cancellation of five of 11 planned Russian space station modules.

NASA was about to begin a final stretch of seven shuttle missions to complete the U.S. portion of the station when the Columbia accident occurred, postponing indefinitely all shuttle flights.

O'Keefe refused to rule out the possibility that the shuttles might never fly again.

"I am not certain of anything in this life," said the administrator. " Feb. 1 reminds us all how risky this business is."

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