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24 Oct, 2008 11:32

Space programme faces uncertain future as cosmonauts return

Two Russian cosmonauts, Sergey Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, and an American space tourist, Richard Garriott, have landed safely in Kazakhstan after a mission to the International Space Station. It comes amid concerns that the current financial crisis could

The return also provided something of a marker in the history of spaceflight as Sergey Volkov and Richard Garriott were both sons of former spacemen.

Russian cosmonauts had spent half a year at the ISS while Richard Garriott only had a ten-day stay. The son of a NASA astronaut is said to have paid $US 30 million for his dream journey.

The condition of the crew and the space tourist is satisfactory, doctors say, but further checks will be performed with the help of special sensors attached to their bodies. They are designed to provide data about the functioning of the circulatory, respiratory, nervous and other systems.

The capsule touched down smoothly at the landing site 90 kilometres north of the city of Arkalyk.

The landing was monitored by 15 helicopters and planes. The cosmonauts will be flown to the Moscow region, where they will meet their families at the Chkalovsky air base.

After month-long checks at the Cosmonauts Training Centre in the Moscow region and in NASA, the crew will undergo medical rehabilitation at a resort in the Caucasian city of Kislovodsk. It’s the first time the cosmonauts are staying in Russia for rehabilitation, earlier they went abroad for this purpose.

Enough Soyuzes for ISS to continue

The head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, confirmed that crews will continue to go to the International Space Station despite the financial crisis. Anatoly Perminov also said there would be no more missions of American shuttles from 2011, and Russian Soyuzes will be the only carriers of the ISS crews till 2016.

“Negotiations with NASA are under way about the work of Soyuzes, and the negotiations are not easy,” Perminov said. “It is difficult to say that obligations will be fulfilled completely under the financial crisis conditions. However, Russia guarantees the conveyance of crews.”

At the same time, the head of Russia's space rocket corporation, Energia, Vitaly Lopota, says the production of Soyuz spacecraft is at risk due to the lack of finance. He said the next two expeditions are already fully equipped, but further launches may be under threat if no money is provided.

“If no advance or no loans are provided for us in the next two or three weeks, we cannot bear the responsibility for building of Soyuzes. In the corporation budget, two thirds of the finance are loans. In early October the goverment promised to give loans, but the financial crisis broke out. It is late October, but no loans have been received,” he said.

In response, Roskosmos head Perminov said that the ISS programme would be provided with Soyuzes in full next year.