Italy and US agree: European manned spaceflight is needed

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Italian and US space agencies have agreed that an autonomous European space access capability with human crews is a necessity for the proposed global lunar exploration strategy.

They have also agreed that studies for the in-orbit assembly of a Mars ship and development of its nuclear propulsion are needed.

Italian Space Agency (ASI) president Giovanni Fabrizio Bignami has met NASA administrator Michael Griffin to discuss the global exploration strategy, which has been drawn up by 14 of the world's space agencies over the past year.

The strategy has implications for the 2010 retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet and International Space Station's de-orbit, proposed for 2016.

Commenting on in-orbit assembly and nuclear propulsion, Bignami says ASI and its industrial partners are "already involved, or interested, in these research and development fields", alone or in co-operation with European partners.

Italian industry and ASI have already provided the space station's Node-2 and -3 modules, three Shuttle-transported multi-purpose logistic modules, Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello and contributed heavily to the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory, attached to the ISS in February, and Automated Transfer Vehicle, scheduled to have been launched on 9 March.