Space Leaders Worry Over Possible Space Station Defunding

Camille Francis
January 28, 2018

On Obama days, NASA would set a new space station in orbit around Mars (until the early 2030s, as predicted), but Trump wants to change what his predecessor did. All that money has been put to good use, enabling NASA and partners to perform novel science while sustaining commercial activities. The United States has spent almost $100 billion on the orbiting laboratory and has continually looked for ways to keep it flying.

That potential impact on the industry, he said, "is one of the reasons why Congress has directed NASA to look at extending the ISS to 2028 and to provide a plan to help scientists and researchers continue experimenting in low Earth orbit beyond that".

An official budget request is set for release on February 12, giving the space community a little more than two weeks to change the president's mind. Trump's administration has yet to really articulate a plan for NASA to get back to the Moon or what will be accomplished there, and shifting around existing funding can only do so much at a time when he's proposed cutting the agency's overall budget. Funding for the ISS was approved by the Obama administration through 2024, though the provision left the door open to continue US federal funding for the station into 2028.

When the agency was asked about the budget proposal, a representative of NASA reiterated its commitment to the ISS without commenting on the leaked document.

Currently, the United States is committed to providing $3 to $4 billion toward the ISS until the year 2024. Companies like SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada Corp are paid billions to fly cargo and supplies there.

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The White House has said repeatedly that it intends to recommit the nation to space exploration, in partnership with the private sector and the worldwide community.

The International Space Station-a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit-has been circling us for two decades, and is expected to be used for another ten years, at least.

Those more ambitious programs such as a moon base or sending humans to Mars would also require resources far more extensive than would be freed up by simply discontinuing NASA's ISS funding, and are unlikely to materialise in the form of government funding in the current political climate.

"It's one thing to say this is the last space station that will be owned and operated by the federal government", Manber said. "What also is a fact is the ISS is still the only game in town that we have at the moment".

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