NASA is weighing a Moscow proposal to cut the number of Russian cosmonauts at the International Space Station from three to two, particularly its potential risk to the crew, an official said Monday, August 15, according to AFP.
Typically, six crew members live at the orbiting outpost, a hallmark of global cooperation that is meant to stay in operation until at least 2024.
Asked during a news conference about media reports that Russia was considering reducing its staff there to two, NASA's Kenneth Todd said the ISS partners -- which include Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency -- are aware of the proposal.
"They are exploring the option of going down to two crew on the Russian segment," said Todd, International Space Station Operations Integration manager.
"They have made that known to the partnership."
Russian media reports have quoted a Roscosmos official as saying the proposal comes as Russia is sending fewer cargo ships to the ISS, and could be a cost-cutting measure, AFP says.
Meanwhile, the United States is ramping up its supply missions to the orbiting lab, with U.S. astronauts preparing a spacewalk Friday to install a commercial docking adaptor at the ISS so that more private spaceships can park at the research lab in the years to come.
Todd said the ISS partners are aware that Russia has committed to the ISS program at least through 2024.
"There is no doubt they are keeping that in mind as they work through whatever challenges they have with their system," Todd said.
"First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself."
Next, Todd said the international partners will see "what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that is a bad thing."
For now, he cautioned that "it is strictly a proposal they have put on the table and we will look at it."