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European to Make Long-Duration Station Visit

European to Make Long-Duration Station Visit
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter. (Image credit: ESA/J-L.Atteleyn.)

PARIS -- Veteran European astronautThomas Reiter will spend six or seven months at the international space stationstarting this summer following a contractual agreement between the Russian andEuropean space agencies and the approval of NASA, which will carry Reiter toand from the orbital complex aboard the U.S. space shuttle, European andRussian officials said.

Reiter's mission -- the first for aGerman national aboard the international space station -- was approved followingnegotiations between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian FederalSpace Agency, Roskosmos.

Under the agreement, ESA is payingsome 20 million euros ($26 million) in cash to Roskosmos,and will provide room for Russian station equipment aboard ESA'sAutomated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) space tug, scheduled to make regular visits tothe station starting in 2006. The total value of the contract, including theATV-related services, is about 30 million euros.

While on board, Reiter's formalstatus will be that of a Russian cosmonaut, and it is under that heading thathe has been approved for launch aboard a U.S. space shuttle tentativelyscheduled for launch in July. The launch date will depend heavily on when theshuttle makes its return to flight after the February 2003 Columbia failure.

NASA and Roskosmoshave an agreement that cover launches of Russian cosmonauts to the station. Russia is usingthis agreement to place Reiter aboard the shuttle.

Michel Tognini,head of ESA's astronaut corps, based in Cologne, Germany,said ESA has been negotiating for a long-duration flight since early 2004. Theagency has organized several so-called "taxi" flights of its astronauts to thestation, but these are less than two weeks in duration -- insufficient for manyof the experiments ESA wants to conduct, Tognini saidApril 28.

ESA's Columbus space station laboratory is severalyears behind schedule, due in part to the grounding of the shuttle, and willnot be launched before late 2006 or 2007. The agency in the meantime has beensearching for ways to give its ground teams and astronauts the kind of workthey will need to perform once Columbusis operational.

Tognini also said Reiter's presence as thethird astronaut aboard the station for six months once the shuttle leaves willdouble the amount of experiments that a two-person crew could conduct.

"The amount of maintenanceastronauts need to perform on the station means that there is not enoughscience being done if only two are there," Togninisaid. "When you add a third person, you double the science you can do. Reiter'spresence will be highly appreciated by all the space station partners."

Tognini said Reiter will conduct a scienceprogram designed mainly by Russian teams. But he also will perform a suite ofESA experiments.

Reiter spent 179 days in orbit in1995 aboard Russia'sMir space station, then flying as an ESA astronaut.

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Charles Q. Choi
Charles Q. Choi

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at