Spaceflight Insider

The Space Station’s new lease on life

The International Space Station's length and width is about the size of a football field. Credit: NASA

The United States committed itself this past Thursday at the International Space Exploration Forum to extending the shelf life of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2024. Speaking in front of ministerial-level delegates from almost every space-faring country on the planet, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, John Holdren, explained that “the Obama Administration’s decision to extend (the ISS’) 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.”

The forum, aimed at ensuring ongoing international support for space exploration, was a high-profile demonstration of that American leadership.

In a written statement, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the assembly and the significance of space research, noting how endeavors like the ISS “promote innovation and economic development, foster scientific advancement, and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue studies and careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Mr. Kerry’s lieutenant, Deputy Secretary William Burns, summarized the significance of the ISS’ extension most succinctly: “we all share a deep stake in extending humanity’s reach further into the solar system, advancing innovation further and faster, and extending the benefits of discovery to more people in more places.”

NASA photo of the International Space Station ISS on orbit above Earth taken by the crew of STS-128. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA photo of the International Space Station ISS on orbit above Earth taken by the crew of STS-128. Photo Credit: NASA

The four year extension, however, comes only weeks after a failure in an ISS coolant loop highlighted aging concerns as the oldest section of the Station, the Zarya Module, reaches sixteen years in orbit. The record breaking continuous habitation of the stadium-sized satellite has put enormous strains on the ISS over the last decade.

In 2010, ten years after Expedition 1, the Station logged 1.5 billion statute miles over 57,361 orbits, enough to make eight round trips to the Sun. As of June 2013 the Station has hosted 204 individuals brought and serviced by eighty-nine Russian launches, thirty-seven Space Shuttle launches, three SpaceX launches, three Japanese HTV’s, and three European ATV’s. A total of 176 spacewalks have been conducted in support of ISS construction and upkeep, including the recent Christmas Eve EVA, amounting to almost forty-six days in space.

The cost and commitment of America’s extension in the Space Station’s lifespan is made against the backdrop of the monumental support system the ISS requires.

Speaking to the longevity of the Station, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated, “NASA is committed to the space station as a long-term platform to enable the utilization of space for global research and development…And we are committed to our international partnerships and the continued peaceful uses of outer space and unlocking the mysteries of our vast universe.”


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Since 2011 Joshua Tallis has served as the manager for research and analysis at an intelligence and security services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with colleagues from the defense community. Previous work experience includes internships at the U.S. Congress and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Josh is also a PhD student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is a Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Special Honors graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.

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