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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NASA, Russia Deny Plot to Seize Station

Russian and U.S. space officials denied a report this week that the Russian Space Agency is planning to break agreements and send its cosmonauts to the International Space Station ahead of time.

Newhouse News Service reported that extra training that a Russian contingency crew is receiving could mean the Russians are planning an unscheduled "occupation," similar to the scene at the Pristina airport in Kosovo a few months ago.

Informed of the report, Valery Alpukhov, the deputy head of the space agency's international cooperation department, burst out laughing.

"We have a word for that in Russian," he said before referring further questions to the agency's press office.

The report focuses on a two-person Russian contingency crew that may be called upon to dock the service module later this year if the planned automatic docking fails.

According to the article, the contingency crew is receiving training that would only be necessary in case of a long-term stay. James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program who was the main source in the Newhouse article, said in a telephone interview Thursday from Houston that the only explanation for such training was a "coup de space" scenario.

But, he added, sending the Russians up first may not be such a bad idea. He said Russians could go immediately to the station, whereas waiting for the originally scheduled crew of two Russians and American commander William Shepherd would involve further delays. The launch, which has already been postponed several times, is currently scheduled for March 2000.

If the automatic docking works, "they [the Russians] would suggest they should go anyway ... and the argument would be a compelling one," Oberg said.

"The more you think about it, the more it makes sense to put a Russian crew up," he added. "The modules up there are still just going around in circles, getting older." Oberg said it is not technically feasible to send a three-person crew, and if two people go,they would have to be Russians.

"The American doesn't know the equipment as well," said Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov, adding that Shepherd was made commander for purely political reasons.

But Gorbunov said there was no reason to send two cosmonauts up early. "There's nothing to do there."

NASA spokesman Kyle Herring said there was nothing alarming about the contingency crew's training and dismissed talk of Russian intent of an unscheduled long-term stay "speculation."