Funding for NASA’s International Space Station program could end by 2025. This is according to a new draft budget proposal by the Trump administration. The draft proposal might change before the official budget proposal is released. However, inside sources on the matter have confirmed that the directive will be in the final proposal.
The implications of this decision are quite apparent. Without funding for the International Space Station program, American astronauts will be grounded on Earth until NASA is able to develop specialized vehicles that can handle deep space travel. This could take years and might also reverse the massive research progress that has already been made.
In addition to this, an attempt by the president to cut funding for the International Space Station program could send a signal to NASA’s partners that the US is no longer interested in the program. It’s very likely that these countries will decide to stop working on the station too.
NASA refused to comment on this latest development saying that it will wait for the final budget proposal to be released officially. The International Space Station has been an integral program for NASA. It has been in full operation over the last thirty years and so far its budget has ranged between $3 and $4 billion each year. Overall, the US government has invested about $87 billion in the program.
The International Space Station has provided a hub for microgravity research. It has also been used to test how humans react to zero gravity as well as to conduct tests on other key space technologies. In 2014, former US president Barack Obama extended funding for the program until 2024. However, station’s fate after this extension has been up in the air.
Congress has discussed what to do with the station after 2024 but no decision has been made yet. There is a consensus though within the space research community that the program needs to be extended. Commercial space agencies are looking at 2028 as the year when the program can be completed. This will give NASA enough time to develop a strategy to transition the International Space Station from a public sector entity into a commercial one.
Congress has made it clear that it wants to cut funding for the ISS in order to free funds for research in deep space travel vehicles. Last year, president Trump signed NASA Transition Authorization Act that directed the space agency to come up with a plan to transition the ISS from NASA funding. It’s not yet clear whether the agency has come up with such a report or not.
Nonetheless, losing the ISS could have a significant impact on the commercial space industry. Commercial space agencies like SpaceX and Boeing are engaged in space travel research and they have totally relied on the ISS to test out new technologies. Phasing out the ISS sooner than expected could have massive implications on their work. The move could also end international cooperation on space research.