Good news, everyone! This week NASA announced that they plan to keep the International Space Station in operation until at least 2024.
Charles Boldren, the Administrator of NASA said in a statement that by keeping the International Space Station in orbit it will allow NASA and its commercial partners to shake out design issues and conduct research to solve problems that will be necessary for NASA’s manned missions to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030’s:
First, 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.
Second, ISS extension will extend the broader flow of societal benefits from research on the Station. Research conducted on the ISS has already resulted in a number of discoveries with significant medical and industrial implications. Medical examples include potential vaccines for Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and a microencapsulation technique for delivering cancer treatment drugs to tumors without affecting healthy cells. Additionally, technologies advanced by the ISS have led to robotic surgical techniques that are opening the door to successful removal of tumors that were previously considered inoperable.
A further benefit of ISS extension is it will give NASA and its private-sector partners time to more fully transition to the commercial space industry the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit, allowing NASA to continue to increase its focus on developing the next-generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule necessary for deep-space exploration.
We’ve already seen some of these private sector partners take great strides in the last year – Space X’s Dragon and Orbital Science’s Cygnus have both made trips to the International Space Station carrying supplies. Space X in particular has its audience on tenterhooks with its big plans for vertical recovery of reusable launch vehicles.
Russia’s space agency, ROSCOSMOS, has previously announced plans to build their own space station in orbit, dubbed OPSEK or Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex. Its initial construction is intended to consist of russian modules salvaged when the ISS is decommissioned. ROSCOSMOS has not yet released a statement regarding this news and what this means for the proposed OPSEK station.