• Politics of the International Space Station

    Politics of the International Space Station

    • Politics of the International Space Station begins with the 1972 milestone in co-operation between the United States and the Soviet Union in space, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. This cooperative venture resulted in the July 1975 docking of Soyuz 19 with an Apollo spacecraft. From 1978 to 1987, the USSR's Interkosmos programme included allied Warsaw Pact countries, and countries which were not Soviet allies, such as India, Syria and France, in manned and unmanned missions to Space stations Salyut 6 and 7. In 1986 the USSR extended this co-operation to a dozen countries in the Mir programme. From 1994 to 1998, NASA Space Shuttles and crew visited MIR in the Shuttle–Mir Programme. In 1998, assembly of the International Space Station began.

      In March 2012, a meeting in Quebec City between the leaders of the Canadian Space Agency and those from Japan, Russia, the United States and involved European nations resulted in a renewed pledge to maintain the International Space Station until at least 2020. NASA reports to be still committed to the principles of the mission but also to use the station in new ways, which were not elaborated. CSA President Steve MacLean stated his belief that the station's Canadarm will continue to function properly until 2028, alluding to Canada's likely extension of its involvement beyond 2020.

      Ownership of modules, station usage by participant nations, and responsibilities for station resupply are established by the Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). This international treaty was signed on 28 January 1998 by the United States of America, Russia, Japan, Canada and eleven member states of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom). With the exception of the United Kingdom, all of the signatories went on to contribute to the Space Station project. A second layer of agreements was then achieved, called Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), between NASA and ESA, CSA, RKA and JAXA. These agreements are then further split, such as for the contractual obligations between nations, and trading of partners' rights and obligations. Use of the Russian Orbital Segment is also negotiated at this level.

      In addition to these main intergovernmental agreements, Brazil originally joined the programme as a bilateral partner of the United States by a contract with NASA to supply hardware. In return, NASA would provide Brazil with access to its ISS facilities on-orbit, as well as a flight opportunity for one Brazilian astronaut during the course of the ISS programme. However, due to cost issues, the subcontractor Embraer was unable to provide the promised ExPrESS pallet, and Brazil left the programme in 2007. Italy has a similar contract with NASA to provide comparable services, although Italy also takes part in the programme directly via its membership in ESA. Expanding the partnership would require unanimous agreement of the existing partners. Chinese participation has been prevented by unilateral US opposition. The heads of both the South Korean and Indian space agency ISRO announced at the first plenary session of the 2009 International Astronautical Congress that their nations wished to join the ISS programme, with talks due to begin in 2010. The heads of agency also expressed support for extending ISS lifetime. European countries not part of the programme will be allowed access to the station in a three-year trial period, ESA officials say.

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    • Politics of the International Space Station