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Space station barney kicks off in India

Constructive debate, we're sure

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It has cost billions upon billions and it isn't finished yet, but partners in the International Space Station project are already arguing about when it should be shut down, according to AFP reports.

The various agencies' positions are as follows: In the red corner (not political statement, just a handy colour) we have NASA, which says it has no plans to do anything at all with the ISS for more than five years after its completion. In the blue corner, we have European Space Agency (ESA), which says (roughly) if NASA is going, it won't be picking up the budgetary slack.

In the green corner, Russia wants the station's life to be extended. The remaining partners, Japan and Canada, are not showing their cards quite yet.

The Europeans are not happy, however, with the US plans to pull out. According to pundits, ESA takes the view that five years is too short a period to run the ISS, given the enormous investment. But since the US picks up the lion's share of the running costs, NASA is calling the shots.

Speaking at the astronautics congress in Hyderabad, southern India, ESA chief Jean-Jacques Dordain said: "If NASA is staying, we are ready to follow. If NASA is quitting, I shall not propose to ESA to pay part of the cost that NASA is covering today. ESA is not prepared to pay NASA's share when NASA has left the space station."

NASA estimates that it spends roughly $2.3bn of its annual budget just keeping the space station running. Now that the political emphasis in Washington has shifted so emphatically towards manned space exploration generally, and the moon in particular, NASA clearly has an incentive to focus beyond low-Earth orbit. The space agency says lunar bases are the future platforms for manned exploration of our solar system. ®

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