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Russia, NASA OK space station's next crew

/ Source: The Associated Press

Russia's Federal Space Agency and NASA have approved the crew of the next mission to the international space station, a Russian agency spokesman said Tuesday.

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and NASA astronaut John Phillips, who have both done stints on the orbital station, will be preparing for a launch on a Soyuz spacecraft in April, said Vyacheslav Davidenko.

They will replace the station's present occupants, Russian Salizhan Sharipov and American Leroy Chiao, who arrived at there Oct. 16.

Davidenko said the Russian Space Agency also expected to sign a contract with the European Space Agency within weeks to send Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori to the station.  He would fill the third seat in the Soyuz and spend 10 days at the station.

The station has been limited to two full-time residents since last year's suspension of the U.S. space shuttle program in the wake of the Columbia disaster, which left the Soyuz as the only vehicle to take astronauts to and from the station.

Also Tuesday, Yuri Semyonov, head of the RKK Energia company, which builds the Soyuz, said his company planned to send a new manned space shuttle to the international space station between 2010 and 2012, depending on funding.

Semyonov also said Russia sought foreign partners, "Europe or some country," to speed up its work on the Kliper shuttle that will be capable of carrying six crew members and 1,100 pounds of cargo, Interfax reported.  "We have some technological problems, but we are confident that we'll solve them," Semyonov said.

Energia planned to build four such shuttles, each capable of 25 re-entries, Interfax reported, referring to an unnamed company source.

NASA has said it plans to resume its shuttle program in May.