The Obama Administration on Wednesday announced that it had approved an extension of the International Space Station, or ISS, until at least 2024, four more years than the previously planned 2020 deadline.
Wednesday’s announcement came one day before an international summit on the future of space exploration, which is set to kick off Thursday in Washington. NASA said that its partners from around the world are expected to join the extension effort, suggesting that the timing of the announcement was intended to influence the summit.
“The extension of ISS operation will allow NASA and the international space community to accomplish a number of important goals,” Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA, wrote in an official blog post. “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.”
According to NASA, keeping the ISS going longer is essential for many reasons. For example, the extension will allow the space agency to complete necessary research activities aboard the $100-billion orbiting laboratory in support of planned long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit, including the planned human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. The extension of the ISS is also expected to help scientists better understand the impact of long-duration missions in space on the human body.
NASA has argued that the ISS extension could benefit future discoveries with significant medical and industrial implications, while also giving the space agency and its private-sector partners more time to transition to the commercial space industry, including the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit.
“Launching American astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil has also been a top priority of the Obama Administration, and we’re making great strides toward certifying private companies to transport our astronauts into orbit,” Bolden wrote.
Over the next few years, NASA said, the ISS will host several Earth and space-science instruments, including the Stratospheric Aerosols and Gases Experiment, the RapidSCAT ocean winds measurement instrument and the Orbital Carbon Observatory among others, to study the Earth and its changing climate.
NASA also stressed that extending the space station's life would help “maintain American leadership in space.”
“With a partnership that includes 15 nations and with 68 nations currently using the ISS in one way or another, this unique orbiting laboratory is a clear demonstration of the benefits to humankind that can be achieved through peaceful global cooperation,” Bolden wrote. “It is important to keep this partnership intact, with America as its leader.”