New NASA Direction Spurs Hopes for Cooperation

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BERLIN — NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told a largely European audience here June 10 that the U.S. space agency’s proposed new direction leaves substantially more room for international partnerships than the Moon-focused Constellation program that it would replace.

Attending the Berlin air show, ILA 2010, Garver said Constellation, which the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is asking Congress to cancel, ultimately would have consumed 50 percent of NASA’s budget and “was closed off to international cooperation.”

European government authorities have said in the months since NASA unveiled its spending plans that the U.S. agency intends to invite non-U.S. collaboration in space exploration in areas once reserved for U.S. technologies only.

Germany, which is Europe’s second-biggest investor in space after France, is especially hopeful that the Obama administration’s policies will open doors that were once closed to NASA’s international partners.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said here June 8 before meeting with Garver that the previous U.S. administration had limited European contributions to a U.S.-led space exploration program to technologies that were not on the “critical path” of mission performance.

In a press briefing, Woerner said that restriction seems to have been removed, opening up possibilities for Germany and other nations to form partnerships on space exploration missions.

Asked to confirm that this was the case, Garver offered a nuanced response.

She said NASA’s previous policy of keeping non-U.S. contributions off the critical path for space exploration was never fully put into practice, as demonstrated by the fact that the United States will be relying on Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the international space station for at least several years following the retirement of the space shuttle. Any definition of “critical path,” she said, would certainly include crew-transport systems.

Garver added that the recent U.S. decision to extend operations of the space station for at least five years, to 2020, should also be viewed at least in part as a nod to the concerns of NASA’s space station partners.

“We realized that our partners probably never would have trusted us again if we had de-orbited the space station in 2015,” Garver said during a discussion here with high-ranking officials from the European, Russian and Indian space agencies.

The European and Japanese laboratories were among the last major station components to be launched to the orbital complex by the U.S. space shuttle. A station retirement in 2015 would have meant that Europe and Japan would have had little time to operate facilities that had taken more than a decade to develop.