The International Space Station can breathe a sigh of relief as its useful life has been extended to 2030, as announced by Bill Nelson, NASA’s Administrator.
If NASA had gone with its previous plan, the space station would have been decommissioned in 2024. The ISS would have been stripped and the core component pushed into the earth’s atmosphere, where it would have burned up.
Since NASA still needs a space station for its astronauts, the agency has been funding research by private companies into building and putting commercial space stations in orbit. Three companies have received a total of more than $400 million so far. They are Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman.
However, with this announcement, the US will continue to work with other countries on the ISS for a few more years. The ISS is maintained by the US, European Space Agency (ESA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and Russian space agency (Roscosmos).
By turning over the operation of space stations to private companies, NASA hopes to save money and concentrate on its Artemis mission to the moon and beyond.
NASA had said the ISS was technically able to function till 2028.
By extending the lifetime of the ISS to 2030, NASA will be able to transition to renting working facilities from privately-owned space stations seamlessly.
According to Nelson, “The International Space Station is a beacon of peaceful international scientific collaboration and for more than 20 years has returned enormous scientific, educational, and technological developments to benefit humanity. I’m pleased that the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to continuing station operations through 2030. The United States’ continued participation on the ISS will enhance innovation and competitiveness, as well as advance the research and technology necessary to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program and pave the way for sending the first humans to Mars. As more and more nations are active in space, it’s more important than ever that the United States continues to lead the world in growing international alliances and modeling rules and norms for the peaceful and responsible use of space.”
The ISS is one of the most expensive objects built by humans, with an estimated cost of over $100 billion. It has hosted many types of research that require micro-gravity from more than 100 countries and areas. It has also welcomed non-astronaut visitors, recently hosting a crew that shot a film.
Politics sometimes affect the activities in space, with the growing tension between the US and Russia threatening the working relationship the two countries had built in the ISS for years. Russia blew up a satellite as a show of force last November, adding more debris to the earth’s orbit. This creates dangers for satellites which can get damaged when they collide with debris.
China is barred from using the ISS due to friction here on earth with the US, but the Asian country is developing its own space station. It also recently filed a report with the UN that its space station has nearly collided with a satellite belonging to an American company, SpaceX. According to China, this has happened twice, and the space station had to dock out of the way, with astronauts aboard. China urged the US to take the pledge seriously by space-exploring countries to prioritize protecting astronauts in space.
Meanwhile, NASA plans to build another space station that will orbit the moon, named the Gateway. It is smaller than the ISS and will serve as a base for the renewed exploration of the moon and other locations in the solar system.