Space Station Will Keep Orbiting Until at Least 2024

Move will maximize station's usefulness, NASA says, and boost fledgling commercial space industry

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Good news, space geeks: The International Space Station (ISS) will keep orbiting Earth for at least another decade.

The Obama administration said Wednesday that it granted NASA approval to extend its ISS program through 2024.

The announcement comes one day before the leaders of the world’s space programs gather for an annual conference in Washington, D.C. It’s still unclear how many of NASA’s global ISS partners will choose to keep using (and financing) the station.

“The ISS is a unique facility that offers enormous scientific and societal benefits,” wrote White House Office of Science and Technology Policy director John P. Holdren and NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a joint statement. “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.”

NASA’s decade-long extension will also add more certainty to the burgeoning commercial space industry. With the space shuttle gone and its replacement years away, NASA has been largely relying on Russian spacecraft to get its astronauts and equipment aboard the ISS. However, SpaceX, an American commercial space venture launched by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, has been awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract to ferry cargo to and from the ISS — and it’s already flown two successful missions. Another American company, Orbital Sciences, is set to launch its second ISS mission this week. With the ISS’s life extended, those companies will be more certain their services will be required by NASA in the future as the agency increasingly relies on commercial spacecraft for quick sorties from Earth to the station and back again.