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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Who rules the roost on ISS?
The international space station
It is unclear who is in charge of the space station
By Julian Siddle of our science staff

The arguments over whether or not the Russian mission to the international space station will go ahead have thrown into focus divisions between the international teams involved in the project.

Soyuz rocket standing on the launch pad
Nasa wanted Russia to delay its launch
The space race was perhaps the most public expression of the United States' and former Soviet Union's fight for global supremacy, with the Soviets putting the first man in space but the United States getting to the Moon first.

The international space station represents a new collaborative approach, now that the Cold War is officially over.

Funding versus expertise

But arguments over whether or not the Russian craft should go to the space station this weekend have raised the question of who is really in charge and - perhaps more pertinently - who should be in charge?

Clearly, the United States holds the upper hand on control of the station, having stumped up most of the money and provided most of the technology for the project.

But it is the Russians who know most about how to operate space stations - almost everything we know in this field comes from the much maligned Mir project.

And, according to a former head of the Soviet space programme, the most useful information looks like being what was learned when it went wrong.

But the Russians are sharing their expertise with the US. Many scientists from the Soviet space programme are now working on space projects in the US.

Lessons learnt

And despite the rhetoric of cold war times, thre have been collaborative space projects in the past, notably the first truly international space flight, when a Soviet Soyuz and US Apollo mission docked in space in 1975.

However, this computer failure has led to the first major disagreement over the running of the space station, until now there has been broad agreement over which nation should deliver what part of the station.

There has been much sharing of information and staff, the current Endeavour crew contains a Russian astronaut.

Nasa is confident it can fix the current computer problems on the international space station.

It has been sending signals from Earth to reactivate the main computers, and these need to be routed through the space shuttle Endeavour.

In computing terms the problem is a very simple one, but it is not clear how long it will take to fix.

They say that once the computers' information is reinstalled they want to monitor them for a couple of days to make sure that everything is working properly and it's for this reason that they want the Soyuz mission delayed.

Although it is technically possible for both the Soyuz craft and Endeavour to dock with the station at the same time, this is not a practice that either the Russians or US envisaged.

Nasa says such an operation is very dangerous as the Soyuz would come very close to the space shuttle's tail fin.

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See also:

27 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Russia defies US over space mission
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