U.S., Russia Agree To Build New Space Station After ISS Expires, Plan Joint Manned Mars Mission

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and NASA signed an agreement during talks held on Saturday at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to build a new space station after expiry of the life cycle of the current International Space Station (ISS), according to RT.

Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov told reporters at a news conference Saturday that Roscosmos and NASA will be working together on a plan for a new space station.

The two sides also agreed to extend the life span of the ISS project to 2024. The life cycle of the ISS was previously scheduled to expire in 2020.

According to the TASS Russia news agency, Komarov said that both parties agreed to coordinate their manned space programs so that they can extend cooperation into future manned Mars missions.

“We have held the first talks with my NASA counterpart here at Baikonur. We made a decision to prolong the operation of the ISS till 2024.”

Komarov hinted that both parties were considering admitting new partners to the joint program, saying, “Under the ISS program the door will be open to other participants.”

RT reports that NASA chief Charles Bolden confirmed that the two agencies have plans for a future joint mission to Mars. According to Bolden, NASA and Roscosmos are drawing up joint plans and consulting with other partners for an international effort.

“Our area of cooperation will be Mars. We are discussing how best to use the resources, the finance, we are setting time frames and distributing efforts in order to avoid duplication.”

Bolden also told reporters that NASA has committed itself to plans for commercializing its space projects.

“We are consciously moving away from government financing of low-orbit missions,” he said.

He added that although the agency has been widely criticized for the move, NASA is working to “attract more private developers to our joint exploration projects of the Moon and Mars.”

He said that NASA has plans to return to the Moon.

News that NASA and Roscosmos have signed an agreement to extend the life span of the ISS joint project to 2024 comes after the Russians threatened to end participation in 2020. But last month, the Russians confirmed that they will stay in the partnership until 2024.

The agreement reflects the fact that both nations see the joint space effort as a significant area of cooperation despite strained relations over the crisis in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, AFP reports that as NASA and Roscosmos representatives held talks at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with three crew members launched from the cosmodrome on a year-long mission. The spacecraft docked at the International Space Station Saturday.

The crew of the Soyuz-TMA16M spacecraft took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 19:42 GMT Friday. The docking was completed at 03:33 GMT after the hatch was opened to allow the astronauts into the ISS.

The crew included NASA Flight Engineer Scott Kelly, 51, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, 54, who will spend a year on the ISS. The third member of the crew, Gennady Padalka, will spend only six months.

The prolonged stay is designed to test the effects of long-term space missions on the human body and health. The health of the astronauts will be closely monitored by a team of doctors on the ground.

According to Bolden, the results of the study will be used for planning a future joint mission to Mars.

“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars. We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”