The Trump administration is considering cutting funding to the International Space Station (ISS) after the 2024 deadline expires, a draft proposal reportedly says. Russia has been considering moves for its own part in the project.
ISS funding was last prolonged by NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, in 2015. The agreement was seen as a ray of hope for the otherwise rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries. But the future of the station under the Trump administration seems bleak. A draft budget proposal reviewed by the Verge, which may be released on February 12, suggests discontinuing the cooperation.
Starting with the 1998 launch of the Soviet module Zarya, previously intended to be part of the national Mir station, construction of the ISS has been one of the greatest engineering achievements for humanity as well as a showcase for the peaceful international cooperation of formerly antagonistic nations. In addition to the US and Russia, the project involves numerous other states, including Canada and Japan as well as a dozen nations working under the umbrella of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Two decades on from birth, the station serves as a platform for studying microgravity, launching microsatellites and testing space technologies for various companies and government entities. It is also a somewhat embarrassing reminder for the more anti-Russian part of the US establishment that after the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, NASA astronauts have to rely on Russia to go to and from the ISS. A new manned capsule currently in development, Orion, is expected to be ready by 2023. Boeing and Space X are also working on alternatives as part of NASA’s drive to commercialize space exploration.
The White House has been on a budget-cutting spree, seeking to defund areas it doesn’t consider crucial for America’s self-interest, from US programs to domestic environmental protection. The space station seems to be a natural target for this policy. The US government has invested billions in the orbital outpost over the years. Defunding the project would free up resources for the Trump administration’s ambition of taking the US back to the moon.
The possibility of the US pulling out of the ISS project after 2024 has been on the table for years, with Roscosmos reportedly considering options on how to proceed after that. The possible solutions suggested by commentators range from unfeasible – such as undocking the Russian part of the ISS and operating it solo – to replacing it with a new national space station or seeking cooperation with China, a nation determined to build its own manned station without relying on others.
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