The end of an era? NASA may be abandoning the ISS for deeper space.
NASA is leaving the International Space Station for good, surprising new reports are claiming.
NASA is trying to save money and feels the best way to do that would be to cut ties with the ISS, which has been in low-Earth orbit for 15 years with a continuous human presence on board, according to an Ars Technica report.
NASA has been footing the bill for transportation costs to allow private industry to send experiments and the astronauts who conduct them to and from the space station. Then, NASA paid private companies to develop new spacecraft to get astronauts and experiments to the station, essentially making NASA a gigantic middleman between the ISS and private companies.
But that appears to be coming to an end, as William Gerstenmaier, who is NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, said during a December NASA advisory council meeting that the agency’s vision is to move out from the ISS, and the goal right now is to get out of the space station “as quickly as we can,” he said according to the report.
NASA spends about $3 billion each year, and that is expected to rise to $4 billion by 2020. It sounds like a lot, but the agency has now been put in the position where it has to choose between its budding human exploration program and its space station program.
NASA would likely stop supporting the ISS in 2024 at the earliest or 2028 at the latest. That will mean the end of the ISS, as it doesn’t have enough support from other countries or private contractors to stay maintained. What that means is that the station will be deorbited and it will break apart in the atmosphere.
That wouldn’t mean the end of low-Earth orbit, on the other hand, as the private space industry could take over that mission. Of course, any orbiting module probably would be a lot smaller — the ISS, after all, cost a massive $140 billion and took 15 countries to support it, something private contractors are not likely to duplicate.
As for NASA, Gerstenmaier said it’s time to move on if it wasn’t to go deeper into space. But NASA had to dump ISS if it wanted to get astronauts back to cislunar space in the late 2020s, the first time mankind has ventured outside of Earth’s orbit since 1972.