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China Has Not Been Invited to Join International Space Station, NASA Says

080927-china-wave-02.jpg
Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang waves from outside his Shenzhou 7 spacecraft September 27, 2008. He became his country's first spacewalker.
(Image: © China National Space Administration)

China'snational space program has not been invited to join the International SpaceStation project, despite a news report from Russia suggesting otherwise, NASAofficials told SPACE.com.

NASAspokesperson John Yembrick said that while NASA is always seeking newpartnerships, the agency and its space station partners have not invited Chinato join the $100 billion space station program.

"There'songoing dialogue about it and I think NASA is open to further partnerships inthe International Space Station," Yembrick told SPACE.com."But as of now there have been no formal invitations."

?The commentcame after Russia's Federal Space Agency posted a news report to its websitethat suggested Russian space officials had reached out to China's space programfor involvement in the International Space Station.

The reportcited comments made by Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov to theInterfax news service last week at the International Economic Forum in St.Petersburg. In the Interfax report, Perminov reportedly said Russia hadcontacted Chinese space officials to see if there was any interest in using thelatter country's Shenzhou vehicles as a backup for the Russian Soyuz space taxis that ferry crews to and from thespace station.

Perminovreportedly said Russia had not yet received a response. However, Yembrick said no overturehad in fact been made to China by the 16-nation consortium building theInternational Space Station. The space station has been under constructionsince 1998 and is nearly complete.

China is thethird country after Russia and the United States to build and launch spacecraftcapable of flying humans into space. The country launched its first astronaut into space in 2003, with two moremissions in 2005 and 2008. The latter included a three-man crew and China'sfirst spacewalk.

The countryis also developing plans for a Chinese space station, the first module of which is calledTiangong 1 and is slated to launch in 2011.

Some spaceagency leaders have mentioned the potential for cooperating with China onfuture space ventures.

EuropeanSpace Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain reportedly said May 31 thathe would be ready to embrace cooperation with China if the other space stationpartners also agreed.

"I amreally willing to support the extension of the partnership of the[International Space Station] to China and South Korea. Obviously, this shouldbe a decision by all partners, not the decision by one partner," theChinese Xinhua news agency quoted Dordain as saying at the time.

Once NASA'sspace shuttle fleet retires, Russia's three-person Soyuz spacecraft will be theonly way to launch and return astronauts to the International Space Stationuntil commercial American spacecraft become available.

NASA plansto fly two more shuttle flights ? on Discovery and Endeavour, respectively ?before retiring the space shuttles for good. The agency is currentlyseeking to delay the final shuttle flight to Feb. 28, 2011.

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