American astronaut Michael Foale, just back from six months aboard the international space station, said Wednesday that only a demanding work program would justify spending a full year in space.
Russia is pressing NASA to agree to extend crew stints on the space station from the current six months to one year, which would free up places on its Soyuz crew capsules for paying space tourists.
But staying in orbit for a long time is not worth it in itself, Foale said during a news conference at Russia’s space training facility outside Moscow.
Foale suggested that a rigorous program, including spacewalks and experiments, could justify extending the time limit in orbit.
“If there is a strong orbital program that utilizes the fact that you are spending a year in space then there is value in it,” he said.
Foale’s crew mate, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, agreed.
“If there is work, it’s possible to fly as long as necessary,” Kaleri said. “If there is no work, there is no worse punishment.”
Russia’s Soyuz and Progress cargo ships have been the only link to the space station since the U.S. shuttle fleet was grounded following the loss of the shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Russia, facing the need to mobilize its scarce resources to keep the station supplied and manned, has halted construction of its own segment on the station and some commercial projects, including selling space trips to rich tourists.
Kaleri and Foale returned to Earth on Friday, along with European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands, who spent nine days on the station.
The three men, who have been undergoing medical tests and recuperating at Star City since, looked relaxed and upbeat.
“The flight was very good. The main thing was that the station functioned normally and we fulfilled the whole program,” said Kaleri, who was flight commander of the two-man space station crew.
Kaleri said he and Foale managed to find enough free time to watch the traditional Saturday night movie.
Kuipers, who made his first space flight, said he was very pleased and hoped there would be a second.
Foale, however, hinted that his repeated stints in space had left him slightly jaded.
“There must be a new aim, a new challenge,” to entice him into returning, said Foale, who has been in space six times.