The White House has just announced that the United States has extended its lease on the International Space Station through the 2024 fiscal year. This is great news for both NASA and science in general.
The $US100 billion International Space Station tops NASA’s list of most mission critical projects and is expected to act as a vital stepping stone to our future exploration of the solar system. As a White House press release explains,
It will allow NASA to complete necessary research activities aboard the ISS in support of planned long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit — including our planned human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. NASA has determined that research on ISS is necessary to mitigate fully 21 of the 32 human-health risks anticipated on long-duration missions. A related critical function of ISS is testing the technologies and spacecraft systems necessary for humans to safely and productively operate in deep space. Extending ISS until 2024 will give us the necessary time to bring these systems to maturity.
And it’s not just space exploration science that is benefiting. The ISS hosts a huge variety of scientific experiments submitted by both the general public and the scientific community. And with the demise of the shuttle program, the ISS is one of the only remaining zero-G test environments.
However, keeping the ISS alive is going to be really expensive. Between 2021 and 2024, the four years beyond the station’s original decommission date, the ISS will cost an estimated $US3 billion annually. And unless Congress suddenly decides to increase NASA’s paltry $US17 billion budget before then, the space agency will certainly feel a financial strain. [White House]