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    RUSSIA TO INSIST ON EXPANDING ISS PERMANENT CREW

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    MOSCOW, February 17, 2004 (RIA Novosti correspondent Alexander Kovalev) - Rosaviakosmos (Russian space agency) Head Yuri Koptev said at a press conference on Tuesday that Russia would insist on increasing the number of the crewmen at the International Space Station (ISS) to six persons and also on including the second Soyuz spaceship into the station as an additional rescue ship.

    "We count on receiving a clear and coherent answer about the station's further operation from our American partners before the middle of this year," he said.

    Furthermore, according to him, the Russian side will work to resume the shuttle flights frozen after the Columbia space shuttle accident on February 1, 2003.

    According to Koptev, NASA plans to spend $900 million more on the shuttle flights and the ISS programme this year than in 2003. "The Americans are not in the least curtailing this project, and have a firm intention of fulfilling all the obligations at the ISS," Koptev stated.

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