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                        CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA has
                        again extended its deadline for completion of
the
                        International Space Station, which is now
targeted for
                        2006, a space-station official said on
Wednesday.

                        When the first segment of the $60 billion
project was
                        launched in 1998, the completion date was in
2004.
      Later, as Russia fell behind on a key module, the date was moved
to 2005.

      This time, the delay is not linked to problems on the ground, said
Bob
      Cabana, the station program's manager for international
operations. Instead,
      NASA has begun to rethink its entire approach to the construction
project
      some 240 miles above Earth.

      The new schedule allows crews of U.S. astronauts and Russian
cosmonauts,
      who will live aboard the orbiting outpost, to begin scientific
research almost
      as soon as the first crew, Expedition One, reaches the station
later this year.

      But the new launch schedule, which targets April 2005 for the
ribbon cutting,
      reflects NASA's fading confidence in the ability of the United
States and
      Russia to complete the next 35 assembly missions on a schedule
that would
      require a launch every month or so.

      The new schedule, approved by NASA's partners in Russia, Europe,
      Canada and Japan last month, ``spreads it out a little,'' Cabana
said. ``I think
      its a much more realistic schedule.''

      At the same time, Russian space officials are making clear that
their funding
      problems have not abated.

      The Russian program is funded through March, a four-launch
schedule that
      includes the first three-member Expedition One crew aboard a Soyuz

      spacecraft. However, funding beyond that is cloudy.

      Russia's Ministry of Finance has not released funding for the
following year,
      with nine Russian launches scheduled, and space officials there
expect they
      will have to fight for their money.

      ``It's a very ugly process, really,'' said Mikhail Sinelshikov,
the Russian Space
      Agency's chief of piloted programs. ``We've been living under such

      circumstances for a long time.''

      NASA's space station program manager, Tommy Holloway, was
optimistic,
      saying ``I really expect they'll find the money and be able to
fulfill their
      obligations.''

      But U.S. space officials say the decision to extend the
construction period
      has less to do with Russia's problems than with lessons learned
from their
      one-time competitors, who have been successfully flying space
stations since
      the 1970s.

      NASA's work ethic is largely based on missions designed to last no
more
      than a week or two, something perfected during the Apollo moon
program
      and reinforced by almost 20 years of shuttle flights.

      This ``sprinter's mentality,'' as space officials have referred to
it, has led to
      planning where every five-minute increment of an astronaut's time
in space is
      planned months in advance. Although that may work for an 11-day
shuttle
      mission, NASA has begun to see advantages in the ``marathon''
approach of
      the Russians.

      ``It's our nature to want to plan things six months in advance,
while the
      Russians will take a look at it and say, 'That is feasible. We
know that that
      can be done. We'll wait until we're a month out to take a serious
look at it
      and we won't nail down the final plan until a week ahead of
time,''' said Jim
      Van Laak, a senior space-station manager for NASA.

      ``That's not in NASA's current view of how we do business. It's
something
      we're either going to have to adopt of make a compromise toward,''
he said.

      One reason is the strain on crews on the ground and in orbit. NASA
likes to
      put astronauts to work almost the minute rocket engines stop
firing. The
      Russians like to give space-station crews several days to recover
from their
      launch and become acclimated to their new environment before
starting full
      work days.

      Representatives for all space-station partners were at the Kennedy
Space Center on Wednesday in advance of
      Friday's launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.

      NASA said Atlantis was in good shape after the launch pad was hit
by lightning Tuesday night.

      If all goes as planned, this supply and assembly run will begin
what NASA calls the most ambitious 12-month
      period in the history of human space flight.

      Between them, the Russians and Americans will try to launch a
dozen or more missions. At the end of that time,
      the station should be the largest manufactured structure ever to
fly in space and one of the brightest objects in
      the evening sky.

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