The International Space Station was originally scheduled to be deorbited by 2016. Given the long development program, this led to understandable criticisms that NASA and the international partners were building the station just so they could throw it away. In 2010, President Obama reversed course on that plan, announcing that the US would continue ISS operations through at least 2020.

Now, there are rumors the lifetime of the station may be extended even further, until 2028. If that happens, ISS will remain in orbit for a total of 30 years – twice as long as the Russian Mir space station. Ironically, the previous NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin, insisted that Russia deorbit the Mir space station to free up resources for the ISS program. Goldin declared Mir to be outdated and unsafe because of its age. Pressure by Goldin ended attempts by US and international parties to commercialize the Mir space station.

Mir Space Station seen from Endeavour during STS-89

One reason for keeping ISS in orbit for as long as possible: although it is seldom commented on, NASA does not currently have a firm plan for how to dispose of the space station when it reaches end of life. The original plan called for the station to be disassembled and major pieces returned to Earth via the Space Shuttle. That plan is currently nonoperative since the Shuttle is no longer flying.

By the time 2028 arrives, ISS may be something of an anachronism, if Bigelow Aerospace realizes its ambition to develop a commercial space station.

Written by Astro1 on March 17th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General)

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