The European Space Agency (ESA) has agreed to six-month postponements of the Soyuz flights by two members of its astronaut corps planned for April and October 2003. The agreement is based on an understanding between ESA, the Russian Space Agency (Rosaviakosmos) and NASA, in close cooperation with the Spanish and Dutch authorities concerned. The purpose of the agreement is to allow the April Soyuz flight to be used for an International Space Station crew rotation.
“The agreement was made in the interest of a smooth continuation of Space Station operation and utilisation,” said Mr Jörg Feustel-Büechl, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, “it should be seen as a sign of the close cooperation and solidarity among the International Space Station partners”.
It was initially planned to exchange the present crew on board the ISS in March with a new crew arriving on the Space Shuttle Discovery. In April a new Soyuz spacecraft was scheduled to fly to the ISS carrying ESA astronaut Pedro Duque for an 8-day stay on the ISS, a mission supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology.
The temporary grounding of the US Space Shuttle fleet has made it necessary for the April Soyuz flight to be used for ISS crew rotation purposes. ESA’s agreement to postpone the two planned flights for six months will make Pedro Duque’s seat on that flight available for the crew rotation.
Pedro Duque’s mission is now planned for October, when he will carry out a range of life and physical science experiments on board the ISS. As Duque is working as expert astronaut in the ESA Columbus team, the practical experience he will gain on the ISS will directly benefit the integration and flight preparation of the European Columbus Laboratory, currently scheduled for launch in 2004. He will also participate in a number of educational and promotional activities with the aim of bringing the European human space programme and research performed in space to a wider public, young people in particular.
ESA astronaut André Kuipers will fly in spring 2004. This mission, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will focus strongly on scientific research and Kuipers will carry out an extensive programme of life and physical science experiments with particular emphasis on biology, human physiology and materials science. He will use a number of European facilities during the mission, including the Pulmonary Function System, ESA’s contribution to the NASA Human Research Facility, and the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Educational activities will again be part of the programme.
Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, whose Shuttle flight to the ISS was originally scheduled for July 2003, is currently on standby and continues his training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
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