The Irish coastguard could lead search and rescue operations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in the North Atlantic Ocean, in 2016, when manned vehicle missions to the Moon and the International Space Station have recommenced.

A senior official has visited Shannon Airport, in County Clare, to hold preliminary talks over the possible requirements needed by NASA if a launch is aborted, the Irish Examiner reports.

NASA’s manager of mission planning and the integration office for the commercial crew programme, Don J Pearson, held the talks at Shannon and confirmed that the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, will be establishing a more formal relationship with the Irish Coastguard in the future.

Pearson said his visit to Shannon was of personal in nature but added that he “wanted to drop by and see what it looks like and meet the people.

“We at Nasa are interested in their capabilities and so we may establish more formal interfaces soon.”

Chris Reynolds, Irish Coast Guard director, said, “Pearson had previously contacted the base by phone from NASA as he is interested in finding out general and contact information to determine rescue options to further Nasa’s planning process.”

Shannon Airport was previously a selected emergency landing site during the Space Shuttle Programme. The programme ended in 2011 after 135 missions. The United States now has no manned craft of its own to send into space. The task now falls on Russia to bring US personnel and equipment to the International Space Station, at a cost of about $70 million per seat.

By 2016 the new programme’s manned craft will travel from Florida north, along the Eastern seaboard of the United States, past Newfoundland, Canada, across the Atlantic to pass the south coast of Ireland, the United Kingdom and then over Europe. If this vehicle had to ditch into the sea it would be coast guard's job to rescue the crew.

According to the Examiner the abort area stretches up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the Irish coast which falls within the range of the Irish coast guard's newest helicopter, the Sikorsky S92.