Russia Backtracks on Plan to Sink Space Station

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Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation.
NASA

THE GIST

— International science agencies agree to try to operate the ISS beyond 2020.

— The Russian space agency's spokesperson said they were in agreement with the plan to extend the station's life.

— Previously, a head official at the Russian agency had said they would sink the station by 2020.

A watery fate may have to wait.

Russia's space agency backpedaled Thursday from an international outcry over comments by deputy head Vitaly Davydov, who said Russia planned to sink the International Space Station into the Pacific Ocean in 2020.

"The partners have agreed to continue the ISS operation until 2020. The partners will also approve an extended period of the ISS," agency press secretary Anna Vedishcheva told Russian news agency Interfax-AVN on Thursday.

At a 2010 meeting of the international science agencies that run the ship, most agreed that an "extended period" of operation was a common goal. But Vedischeva continued to stress the spacebase's ultimate fate: a watery grave at the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

WIDE ANGLE: The Shuttle's Final Countdown

"The only way to dispose of the station is to sink it," Vedishcheva said, a necessary evil required "to avoid the appearance of a large amount of space debris in orbit."

She described media reports on the Russian space agency's comments as "distorted."

After sinking hundreds of millions into construction of the space station — billions if you include the cost of the space shuttle flights that carried the ISS modules into orbit — knowledgeable government sources and NASA spokesmen were aghast Wednesday at Davydov's unilateral declaration of the station's fate.

"This isn't the first time I've seen Russia come out with a statement that seems to be coming out of their own stovepipes," one knowledgeable congressional representative told FoxNews.com Wednesday. "I would give it no credence at all."

SEE ALSO: The Shuttle Is Dead; Long Live The Politics

"NASA would have advised us ahead of time if there were any agreement along those lines," he said.

Indeed, NASA claimed they were in talks to extend the station's services: "The partnership is currently working to certify on-orbit elements through 2028," NASA spokesman Joshua Buck told FoxNews.com.

Russian officials now claim the focus was always on the method of disposal and not about setting concrete deadlines.

The space station represents a massive, worldwide accomplishment, spanning an area the size of a football field. It has been continuously occupied for nearly 11 years, and has travelled more than 1.5 billion miles — the equivalent of eight round trips to the Sun — over the course of over 57,000 orbits around the Earth, NASA notes.

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