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Senators push NASA to extend ISS through 2028

Private companies are unlikely to take on the more than $1 billion annual cost to run the International Space Station by 2025 as NASA hopes, the space agency’s internal watchdog reported Wednesday.

A bi-partisan pair of U.S. senators said in a hearing that the report from NASA Inspector General provided a closing argument against the Trump administration’s proposal to privatize or abandon the orbiting laboratory so soon, saying NASA should extend its life until at least 2028.“We’ve got this platform up there (worth) north of $100 billion, and it’s there,” said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, ranking member on the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. “Abandoning this incredible orbiting laboratory where they are doing research, when we are on the cusp of a new era of space exploration, would be irresponsible at best and probably disastrous.”

“The defense rests,” quipped Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the subcommittee’s chairman.Congress last year asked NASA for a report on how it could achieve an “orderly transition” from a government-run station to a model where NASA and commercial users share the costs of missions in low Earth orbit.The goal: to save money that could be redirected to deep space exploration of the moon and eventually Mars.In its 2019 budget request, the Trump administration proposed ending direct government funding for the ISS by 2025, a timeline Cruz and Nelson argued is arbitrary and premature.Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs, said the administration picked the 2025 date to prompt serious discussion about the transition.The space agency suggests spending $150 million next year to spur more commercial activity on the station, as a start toward NASA pulling back from full control of the outpost that has been occupied continuously for nearly 18 years.

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