China has not been invited to join the International Space Station project, despite a news report from Russia suggesting otherwise.
NASA spokesperson John Yembrick said that while NASA is always seeking new partnerships, the agency and its space station partners have not invited China to join the $100 billion space station program.
"There's ongoing dialogue about it and I think NASA is open to further partnerships in the International Space Station," Yembrick told SPACE.com. "But as of now there have been no formal invitations."
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The comment came after Russia's Federal Space Agency posted a news report to its website that suggested Russian space officials had reached out to China's space program for involvement in the International Space Station.
The report cited comments made by Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov to the Interfax news service last week at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg. In the Interfax report, Perminov reportedly said Russia had contacted Chinese space officials to see if there was any interest in using the latter country's Shenzhou vehicles as a backup for the Russian Soyuz space taxis that ferry crews to and from the space station.
Perminov reportedly said Russia had not yet received a response. However, Yembrick said no overture had in fact been made to China by the 16-nation consortium building the International Space Station. The space station has been under construction since 1998 and is nearly complete.
China is the third country after Russia and the United States to build and launch spacecraft capable of flying humans into space. The country launched its first astronaut into space in 2003, with two more missions in 2005 and 2008. The latter included a three-man crew and China's first spacewalk.
The country is also developing plans for a Chinese space station, the first module of which is called Tiangong 1 and is slated to launch in 2011.
Some space agency leaders have mentioned the potential for cooperating with China on future space ventures.
"I am really willing to support the extension of the partnership of the [International Space Station] to China and South Korea. Obviously, this should be a decision by all partners, not the decision by one partner," the Chinese Xinhua news agency quoted Dordain as saying at the time.
Once NASA's space shuttle fleet retires, Russia's three-person Soyuz spacecraft will be the only way to launch and return astronauts to the International Space Station until commercial American spacecraft become available.
NASA plans to fly two more shuttle flights – on Discovery and Endeavour, respectively – before retiring the space shuttles for good. The agency is currently seeking to delay the final shuttle flight to Feb. 28, 2011.