Tim Furniss / London Move comes as space agency works to return Shuttle to flight amid ISS equipment fears

NASA is coming under Congress-ional pressure to postpone its Orbital Space Plane (OSP) programme until the future direction of US human spaceflight is decided. Opposition to plans to accelerate the programme, to provide a crew rescue capability for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2008, comes as NASA works to return the Space Shuttle to flight by October next year amid concerns about ailing systems on the orbital base.

The new two-man ISS crew, which arrived on 20 October accompanied by Spain's Pedro Duque, is playing down the seriousness of failures among environmental monitoring devices and medical equipment on the station. Expedition crew 8 commander Michael Foale says some air and water purity monitoring devices are not working, but he expects to complete a 200-day stay on board with Russia's Alexander Kaleri. Priority will be given to monitoring the environment, he says.

Some exercise equipment is also malfunctioning. "We may have to return the crew if we can't provide the proper exercise, but again, we are multiple failures [away] from a situation where we would have to return them," says Bill Gerstenmaier, ISS programme manager.

An air sample was to be brought back by expedition crew 7, Russia's Yuri Malenchenko and NASA's Ed Lu, when they returned to Earth in Soyuz TMA-2 on 27 October, with Duque. NASA and the Russian space agency plan to send replacement equipment on forthcoming Progress resupply flights.

NASA is increasing the number of ground-based cameras, used to monitor Space Shuttle launches, from 13 to 23. Ultra-high-speed, long-range still cameras, a range of digital cameras and three types of high-resolution video cameras will be able to monitor the launch from the ground for 167s, from three viewing angles covering the whole structure. During later phases of the ascent, a Martin WB-57F reconnaissance aircraft will follow the launch. The new camera coverage will not allow night launches, which will halve the number of windows for launches to the ISS.

Source: Flight International