A rather interesting news item has been posted on the Roscosmos web site via Interfax. It quotes Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov as saying the International Space Station partners are awaiting a response from China on an invitation to join the project.
The interesting element is why the offer was made: the Russia doesn’t want to be solely responsible for crew transport once the space shuttle retires.
“This is rather dangerous, any expert recognizes that. There must a backup for the Soyuz.We wish some country would have it, and we contacted China with its human spaceflight program mature enough to maintain crew transportation in the program, asking to join the ISS partnership. However there was no response,” Perminov said.
Oh, I can’t imagine this going over very well with Congress. Not. At. All.
Update: NASA issued a formal statement about this story on Friday:
“We checked and confirmed with the director of the Russian Federal Space Agency human space flight program that Russia has not issued an invitation to China to join the International Space Station Program.”
The statement seems limited to whether Russia has issued an invitation to China. However, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain is publicly advocating bringing China, South Korea and India into the 15-nation program. It’s unlikely that either Dordain or Perminov would be publicly commenting on such a move unless there had been some discussion among the partners.
The Obama Administration is keen on increasing international cooperation in space; a general agreement was announced during the President’s visit to Beijing last year. Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren has spoken openly about the possibility of U.S. astronauts flying to ISS aboard the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft.
Publicly, the Administration seems more cool to the idea of adding member nations to the complex station partnership on a formal basis. However, it does seem to be open to ISS cooperation on a bilateral basis. For example, the South Koreans are in detailed discussion with NASA and ESA about joint research projects, including on ISS research.