“We are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2024,” wrote Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden earlier this month. This announcement extends the station for four additional years beyond its previous schedule.
In his statement and in a speech at the International Space Exploration Forum at the U.S. Department of State, Holdren outlined the benefits of research on the station and the four year extension. He said the station is critical as a research laboratory for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. NASA has identified 32 human-health risks likely to be encountered on long-duration flights. Research conducted on the station “is necessary to mitigate fully” 21 of these risks, he said. Holdren also described medical and other societal benefits from station research. Extension of the ISS will require more commercial cargo and crew flights to the station. This should, to some extent, reduce doubts that some Members of Congress have expressed about whether commercial providers would be willing to undertake robust development of servicing hardware for only a few years. The extension will, Holdren predicted, reduce the per flight cost of servicing the station, and “make this investment even more attractive.” He also spoke of the station’s importance to Earth science research and its role in fostering international cooperation.
Bolden reiterated Holdren’s statements about the station in his comments to the forum: “From a NASA perspective the ISS is absolutely essential to the goals of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s, developing and establishing a robust U.S. crew transportation capability to low Earth orbit, achieving a self-sustaining commercial use of space in LEO, and returning benefits to humanity through research and technology development.”
The Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), released the following statement regarding the station extension: “I am pleased that the Administration is initiating an important dialogue with its international partners on the extension of ISS operations to at least 2024. The ISS has been a critical element of our nation’s human space exploration program, and it is important that a decision on its potential extended operations be made in a way that enables NASA and its partners to ensure its effective utilization and operation. I look forward to further details on the Administration’s proposal and on the planned priorities and objectives for ISS activities during the proposed extension.”
Holdren and Bolden both reiterated their support for the proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission to retrieve a near-Earth asteroid and put it into orbit at the L2 gravitational-equilibration point where it would be visited by astronauts. Holdren described this mission as one that “will significantly raise the bar” for what humans could accomplish in space.
Funding for the International Space Station is provided through NASA’s Space Operations budget. The FY 2014 request was $3,882.9 million, of which $3,049.1 million or 79 percent was for the station (the remainder being for Space and Flight Support.) The FY 2014 appropriation for Space Operations is $3,778.0 million, approximately 97 percent of the request. “The agreement maintains strong support for the ISS” declared the Explanatory Statement accompanying the bill.
Congress has been much less enthusiastic about the asteroid mission. The FY 2014 Explanatory Statement included this passage: “NASA has proposed a new mission known as the ARM that would engage both scientific and human exploration activities. While the ARM is still an emerging concept, NASA has not provided Congress with satisfactory justification materialssuch as detailed cost estimates or impacts to ongoing missions. The completion of significantpreliminary activities is needed to appropriately lay the groundwork for the ARM prior to NASAand Congress making a long-term commitment to this mission concept.”