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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 20:31 GMT
ISS 'to be completed as planned'
The International Space Station
The grounding of flights has left the space station only half built
The heads of the five space agencies in charge of the International Space Station (ISS) have held talks on the future of the facility.

The agency chiefs from Canada, Russia, the US, Europe and Japan met at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

They reaffirmed plans to complete assembly of the space station by 2010.

The ISS is serviced by the US space shuttle, but following the loss of the Columbia orbiter in 2003, flights were halted, putting the project in doubt.

Foam loss problem

There are now just 16 planned shuttle flights left before the orbiter itself is scrapped and the ISS is still just half built.

Space shuttle Discovery taking off
Nasa hopes to resume shuttle launches in May
The US space agency (Nasa) needs to get the shuttle fleet back into regular flight service to complete assembly.

The agency chiefs also committed themselves to the planned launch of laboratories, including Europe's Columbus module, and other components before the space shuttles are retired.

The equipment was designed to fly only on the American orbiters and has been left stranded on the ground by the suspension of flights in the wake of the Columbia disaster.

Additionally the agencies' heads agreed to go ahead with six-person crew operations on the ISS from 2009.

Partner modules

Nasa administrator, Mike Griffin, commented: "The hardware all goes up. What we are doing is deferring the utilisation of the station while we concentrate on building it.

"Our earlier plans - which were better plans frankly - allowed us to utilise it as we built it to a much greater extent than we can now accommodate and that's the difference you are seeing; but the end product is very much what we had envisaged."

Nasa is hoping to resume space shuttle flights in May, perhaps squeezing in three missions this year.

The key to its plan is how well engineers have fixed the foam-shedding problem that led to the loss of shuttle Columbia.

Foam loss also occurred in July 2005 on Nasa's first and only shuttle flight, by the orbiter Discovery, since the accident.




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