It looks as if outer space cooperation between East and West will continue after the United States and Russia agreed to work together in the next step of deep space exploration. At the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, this week, NASA and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, signed a joint statement making the US space agency's deep space gateway concept a common goal for the two major powers.

As the International Space Station (ISS) enters the last decade of its planned operational life, the next phase of manned space exploration begins to loom larger. One point of focus is NASA's Orion crew capsule designed for deep space missions to cislunar space, the asteroids, and Mars. A major component of such missions is potentially the deep space gateway, which is a small space station that would be placed in cislunar orbit and act as a jumping off point for manned deep space missions beyond the Moon.

Currently, the gateway is still in the concept stage, with government and private partners working to use the experience of building and running the ISS as well as original Earthside research to define the problems and capabilities needed to make decisions about how to create deep space outposts.

While NASA has been working on a series of studies under its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) habitat study as well as other programs to advance habitation concepts, technologies, and prototypes, the agency is also looking to its international partners for additional assistance.

Today's agreement is also particularly important because cooling relations between Russia and the West over the past decade, combined with present US dependence on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS has caused concern. This has been heightened by Moscow's unwillingness to make space partnership commitments past about 2024 and contradictory Russian statements as to whether it will be going its own way after the ISS is retired.

"While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration," says Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator. "Statements such as this one signed with Roscosmos show the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable."