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While NASA warns of a space race with China, space agencies favour ISS extension

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed confidence that Russia will remain a member of the International Space Station (ISS) through the close of the decade but cautioned that a space competition with China is brewing.

Nelson, speaking on a session with the heads of 7 other space agencies at Space Symposium here on August 25, said he didn’t believe Russian media rumors earlier this year that stated Roscosmos would leave the ISS by the middle of the decade to build its station.

“Despite what you hear or read in the press, I believe that collaboration with the Russians, which has existed since 1975,” he remarked, alluding to Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission in the year 1975, during which an Apollo spacecraft docked with the Soyuz spacecraft.

He claimed that the docking of a modern Russian module dubbed Nauka with the station last month was proof of that. “We anticipate our Russian allies to stay with us, and we anticipate the space station to be expanded as a government initiative all the way to the year 2030.”

Nelson has long campaigned to extend the International Space Station (ISS) until 2030, even though the US Congress has yet to authorize such an extension legally. The other station partners, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia, would have to agree to any expansion of the ISS.D director-general of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, indicated in an interview in August 23 that he supports extending the ISS. “I personally would highly support it,” he stated but added that ESA member nations would have to agree. “I would be delighted to present them with a plan for continued usage of the ISS.” That will most likely happen at the very next ESA ministerial conference, which will take place in late 2022.

The extension of the station is supported by one of the ESA’s major member states. On the panel, Walther Pelzer, chairman of the DLR, a German space agency, remarked, “ISS is the amazing infrastructure from our viewpoint.” “It is a political symbol that we can engage together, and it is something that Germany has supported and will continue to support as long as necessary,” he said. “We are quite pleased that NASA is aiming for 2030.”

“I am confident this is going to be something we will witness in the future,” Pelzer said, adding that formal German backing for an ISS extension may have to wait till after the German elections in late September. Nelson was enthusiastic about continuing relations with Russia, but he questioned that cooperation with China could be extended. He remarked, “Unfortunately, I feel we’re in a space competition with China.”

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