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ESA, Russia Negotiating Six-Month Station Visit

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OBERPFAFFENHOFEN,Germany --The European Space Agency (ESA) is negotiating with the Russian SpaceAgency on a six-month mission to the international space station for an ESAastronaut, ESA's space station chief Jorg E. Feustel-Buechl said Oct. 19.

The flightwould follow the planned April launch of ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, whowill spend eight days at the station as part of an ESA-negotiated,Italian-government-financed mission costing 12.5 million euros ($15.6 million).

It will beVittori's second "taxi" mission to the station after a May 2002 flight. Onthese missions, ESA or other commercial customers take advantage of a vacantthird seat in Russia's Soyuz capsule to ride to thestation during regular crew changes. After an eight-day visit, they return toEarth with the two-member station crew whose six-month shift has ended.

Vittori'sApril flight will be the fifth such ESA-negotiated mission.

In aninterview here following the inauguration of ESA's Columbus Control Center,which will manage the use of Europe's planned space station laboratory,Feustel-Buechl said the sixth ESA agreement with Russia, now being negotiated,would be financed by the agency itself and not one of its member states. Forthe Vittori flight, the Italian Air Force and the Lazio regional governmentaround Rome are paying the flight ticket.

Short-durationflights aboard Russian Russia's Soyuzvehicles are one way ESA is trying to maintain its manned space flight effortdespite the two-year delay in the launch of its the Columbus habitable laboratory. Columbus is to be launched aboard the U.S. space shuttle and is one of manyspace station hardware components awaiting the shuttle fleet's return toflight.

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