Science

White House gives International Space Station 4-year extension. For science.

Above: The International Space Station, as seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour in May 2011.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Obama administration announced today that it will continue to keep the International Space Station operational for another 10 years.

The White House has approved an extension on the International Space Station until at least 2024. This announcement comes just one day before an international summit in Washington, where 30 heads of space agencies from around the world will discuss the future of space exploration.

Extending ISS operation aims to accomplish three main goals.

First, it will allow NASA to complete research in support of “long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit,” such as planned missions to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s.

Second, the extension will provide more opportunities for scientific and medical research. The ISS has housed over 400 scientific experiments to date, including potential vaccines for Salmonella and a technique for delivering cancer treatment drugs, as well as studies on climate change.

Third, this will give commercial partners — such as SpaceX — more time to get the hang of transporting crews and cargo to the ISS, and will drum up greater interest from the private sector in building “space taxis.”

Also, it sends a strong message to China, which has plans to launch a space station of its own in the next decade.

Supporting the ISS is a big undertaking – it is bigger than a football field, weighs nearly one million pounds, and costs more than $100 billion. It also brought the world a simply delightful music video of the David Bowie classic “Space Oddity.” From space.

The previous agreement was to support operations until 2020. NASA’s costs for operating the station amount to about $3 billion a year, and this is a significant chunk of NASA”s annual budget.

However the government, scientists, and space enthusiasts maintain that the expense is worth it because the ISS is critical for science, exploration, research, and the general pushing forward of human knowledge.

The Obama administration’s approval doesn’t mean the ISS will actually live on until 2024 — Congress still has to approve a NASA budget to extend its life, and the next President must also support the effort.

However, it may reassure NASA’s international partners who have questioned how long the U.S. plans to commit to the station. 

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