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NASA extends contract with Russian space agency

An artist's concept of the Ares rocket that will transport humans to Moon and later take them to Mars and other destinations. NASA photo

WASHINGTON (BNS): With NASA set to retire its shuttle fleet in 2010 to pave way for new spacecraft Ares and Orion in the Constellation Programme in 2015, it has signed a $141 million modification to the existing pact with Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012.

The firm-fixed price extension covers comprehensive Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, crew rescue, and landing of a long-duration mission for three station crew members.

"The crew members will be launched on two Soyuz vehicles in the fall of 2011 and will land in the spring of 2012. The flights may be used to meet NASA's obligations to its international partners for transportation to and from the station," NASA said.

The contract extension also provides for the two Soyuz flights to carry limited cargo to and from the station and dispose of trash. The cargo allowed per person is approximately 110 pounds (50 kg) launched to the station, approximately 37 pounds (17 kg) returned to Earth, and trash disposal of approximately 66 pounds (30 kg), the space agency said.

Mission managers at NASA have selected launch dates for the remaining eight space shuttle missions for 2009 and 2010. "The manifest includes one flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, seven assembly flights to the International Space Station (ISS), and two station contingency flights, planned to be completed before the end of fiscal year 2010.

The agency had previously selected October 8 and November 10 as launch dates for Atlantis' STS-125 mission to service Hubble space telescope, and Endeavour's STS-126 / ULF-2 mission to supply the space station and service both Solar Alpha Rotary Joints on the port and starboard end of its truss backbone that supports equipment and solar arrays.

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