Head of NASA’s human spaceflight programme, Bill Gerstenmaier is pushing for clarity on the future of International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2024. Gerstenmaier’s comments come following a panel at the 68th International Astronautical Congress which concluded there was no rush to make a decision on the station’s future.
“I think we need to do that really fairly soon,” he said. “There are some folks that I think would like to invest, but the payback and return require maybe longer than the amount of time between 2017 and 2024.”
The ISS was built and continues to operate with the support of a number of governments and commercial partners. Without any concrete plans to extend the operational lifespan beyond 2024, the station’s partners are likely to allocate funds and personnel elsewhere. It is, as a result, important that decisions are made that will ensure the continued operation of the only human habitat outside Earth’s atmosphere.
The continued operation of the station is, however, not guaranteed. ISS partner JAXA’s (Japan’s national space agency) Koichi Wakata hinted at the possibility of discontinuing the ISS stating, “It’s very important for us to share the benefit, actually understand clearly what the benefit we have so far created ever since the start of the International Space Station, if we really want to continue operations beyond 2024.”
A member of the executive board of DLR (Germany’s national space agency), Hansjörg Dittus had an altogether more pessimistic view of the station’s future. “The ISS is in a phase where its retirement is imminent. The only question that remains open is when will this happen and to what degree,” he said.
Dittus’ comments visibly irked Gerstenmaier who later added, “With that wonderful vision of the future, of an unaffordable infrastructure in space that is essentially draining the inspiration and all the hope out of the world, called space station, and we can only deorbit it as soon as we can,” he said, “this is an awesome way to start today.”
It seems clear that the future of the International Space Station is very much unclear.
Image Credit: NASA