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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 18:19 GMT
Russians to return to space
The Soyuz booster rocket
The flight will be the first manned mission since the Columbia disaster
The Russian Space Agency intends to send two cosmonauts to the International Space Station in May.

The flight will be the first manned space mission since the Columbia disaster in which all seven crew members died.

Three astronauts - one Russian and two Americans - are currently aboard the ISS.

More Russian Soyuz and Progress flights will be needed now the United States has suspended its space missions, said the head of the agency Yuri Koptev.

These would require the agency to receive extra funding.

Mr Koptev has asked the Russian government for $250 million to be paid over the next three years as Russia's share of the development costs of the space station.

'Mere carrier'

If Russia did not get the funding it would run the risk of turning into a "mere carrier" for its European and American partners, he said.

US legislation prevents Nasa from financing construction of extra Russian spacecraft because the Kremlin has agreed to help Iran build a nuclear reactor.

The Russians say the plant is for civilian use.

The Iran Non-proliferation Act of 2000 bars "extraordinary payments" to Russia's space agency unless Washington can verify missile technology or nuclear, chemical or biological weapons have not been passed onto Iran.

Mr Koptev said he hoped the restrictions could be lifted.

"We expect that the spirit of our relationship that has emerged from our nations' fight against international terrorism ... will be applied to this specific and very important area," he told reporters.

The Russian space chief added that he was convinced US shuttle flights would eventually resume, as they were the most viable option for space exploration.



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