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Russians and NASA Discuss Building a New Space Station

Reports from Russia suggest that Moscow's space officials are talking with their NASA counterparts about building a new space station after the current one has run its course, in 2024 or later. But there's no indication of a formal agreement, even though some of the comments make it sound that way.

The comments came after discussions between NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Igor Komarov, timed to coincide with Friday's launch of three new crew members to the International Space Station from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The state-owned Vesti.ru online news service quoted Komarov as saying the United States and Russia would begin work on a new space station. "It will be an open project," Komarov said. "It will feature not only the current members of the ISS."

Bolden's reported comments were more circumspect, merely acknowledging that the existing space station will wear out someday and saying there have been long discussions about what will come next. He was quoted as saying "there are some areas that are better-suited to commercial companies."

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Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Dmitri Rogozin, who oversees the country's space program, tweeted that his government "will examine the results of the talks," and that a decision would be made at a later time.

Last year, Rogozin threatened to veto an extension of the space station's orbital lifetime. Last month, Russian space officials signaled they'd go for an extension to 2024 but might then separate their modules from the rest of the space station and assemble them into an all-Russian orbital outpost.

Update for 1:30 p.m. ET March 29: Here's NASA's response to the reports:

"We are pleased Roscosmos wants to continue full use of the International Space Station through 2024 — a priority of ours — and expressed interest in continuing international cooperation for human space exploration beyond that. The United States is planning to lead a human mission to Mars in the 2030s, and we have advanced that effort farther than at any point in NASA's history. We welcome international support for this ambitious undertaking. Today we remain focused on full use of our current science laboratory in orbit and research from the exciting one-year mission astronaut Scott Kelly just began, which will help prepare us for longer duration spaceflight."

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— Alan Boyle