The Obama administration announced Jan. 8 it is extending the International Space Station until at least 2024.
The extension will allow NASA to continue working on several projects already in the works, including research activities on the ISS in support of long-duration human missions, beyond low-orbit Earth. According to a blog on the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s website, research done on the ISS is critical to test the spacecraft systems and technologies necessary for safe deep-space missions.
“The Obama administration’s decision to extend its life until at least 2024 will allow us to maximize its potential, deliver critical benefits to our Nation and the world, and maintain American leadership in space,” John Holdren, director of OSTP, and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, said in the post.
Research performed on the ISS has already proved its benefits. Several medical discoveries have been made, including potential vaccines for Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, as well as techniques for protecting healthy human cells when delivering cancer treatment drugs to tumors.
In addition, there has been advancement of robotic surgical techniques on the ISS, which in turn has created the possibility of removing tumors once considered inoperable.
Bolden and Holdren are optimistic current ISS partners will join the extension effort. Two U.S. companies are already under contract to resupply the ISS. Furthermore, the extension allows for more flights to be added to the ISS cargo service contract, which Holdren and Bolden said will result in increased competitiveness, more private sector bidders and ultimately, more U.S. commercial satellite launches.
Global leadership in space research is both an incentive and benefit of continuing the ISS 10 more years, according to the two leaders.
“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 and Holdren said. “ It is important to keep this partnership intact, with America as its leader.”
The Obama administration is also hopeful a launch to the ISS from U.S. soil will come to fruition soon; the first commercial crew flight is scheduled for 2017. The extended commitment to ISS involves a “concomitant increased number of flights” will drive down the per-flight costs and in turn make this investment more attractive to interested parties.