In 2001, after a 15 year run in outer space, the Russian space station Mir crashed into the south Pacific, its death brought about by a controlled descent into the Earth's atmosphere. One day, the International Space Station will share Mir's fate as it's ripped apart piece-by-piece like [spoiler alert] that one scene in Gravity. But according to NASA documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, the ISS's death day has been pushed back by at least four years.
According to the NASA documents, the White House wants to extend the space station's mission out to 2024, bumped up from 2020. There are still some political hoops to be maneuvered, says the Sentinel, but the extension is the plan.
NASA officials said they were confident they could keep the outpost aloft for years, despite occasional troubles such as a problem with the observatory's cooling loop that spacewalking astronauts had to repair last month.
"The structural margin of the ISS will be fully adequate to support ISS operations through at least 2028," wrote the authors of a December report that examined the issues involved in extending the life of the station.
Adding four years to the station also would help NASA and its partners recoup their investment in the station, because little science was done aboard the observatory in its early years.”
"ISS is now in its most productive era of utilization for scientific research and technology demonstration …," noted the same NASA document.
Running the ISS costs around billions of dollars each year, so the decision would not have come lightly, given all the other things NASA could do with that money.