Today’s Top Space Headline: “Deadline!” –Fate of the International Space Station Looming

 
View-of-Earth-from-the-ISS-cupola

 

"The latest debate over the ISS is yet another reminder that the end of this mission can’t be delayed forever. There will come a time when the United States will no longer be able to keep pushing the deadline any further, and spacefaring nations will need to reckon, together, with the fate of this home they built for themselves. Someday, the space station will become just too expensive, or just too old, and its stewards will make the difficult decision to let it slowly coast down toward the Earth and plunge into its oceans."


The question of how to wind down the ISS has come up regularly in the last decade, continues Marina Koren in The Atlantic. At each turn, the United States has extended its operating lifetime, to beyond 2016, then through 2020, and then to 2024. Many had suspected operations would eventually receive another extension, until 2028, while the station’s contractors said aging hardware might become problematic for the humans onboard.

The Trump administration had a different vision. In February, the White House released a budget request that called for NASA to end funding for the ISS by 2025 and turn over some operations to private spaceflight companies. NASA would then be able to use the money it currently spends on the ISS for other projects, like next-generation rockets and deep-space missions, the reasoning went.

The proposal was unpopular with many scientists, astronauts, and politicians, particularly lawmakers whose home states house nasa facilities that support ISS operations. But the Trump administration doesn’t appear to be backing down on the plan, and it has a new spokesperson: Jim Bridenstine, the freshly sworn-in administrator of nasa.

Bridenstine has been in talks with “many large corporations” about forming a consortium that would assume responsibility for ISS operations and keep the station running as a commercial platform, he said an interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday.

“We’re in a position now where there are people out there that can do commercial management of the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said.

While the idea of privatizing some or all of the ISS is not new, the Trump administration is the first to formally endorse it in policy proposals. Bridenstine didn’t name any companies, and acknowledged that convincing private businesses to take on such an expensive venture won’t be easy. But the country has seven years to figure it out, he said, and “we have forced the conversation.”

Indeed, Bridenstine’s remarks in the Post will not be the last on this matter. But where the conversation goes from here will be interesting to see in the coming months—especially because the White House is largely alone in thinking this plan will work.

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