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Mission Monday: What does the future hold for the Space Station?

This month marked 20 years of continuous human presence onboard the International Space Station (ISS), a remarkable feat. But what does the future hold for the world’s orbital laboratory?

Let’s take a quick look at some of the ideas and plans NASA holds for the future of the ISS.

The ISS will continue its role as the planet’s leading orbital laboratory.

NASA has maintained that the ISS will remain a dedicated research facility off the planet, and will continue to welcome scientists and their investigations onboard the orbital laboratory in the near and far future.

Over the next decade, NASA has many plans for the ISS, including making upgrades to the station, improving spacesuits, continuing Earth observations, and using the orbital outpost for long-duration human analog missions to prepare for lunar and Martian exploration.

SpaceX is just the beginning.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is now delivering astronauts to the ISS, most recently with the successful launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission.

Boeing soon hopes to join SpaceX in delivering private astronauts to the station with planned flights currently scheduled for June and December of next year.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is just the beginning of commercial spaceflight to and from the ISS.

The ISS is expanding space tourism opportunities.

Space just got more accessible. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi film but plans for the ISS include space tourism!

Earlier this year, NASA selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the ISS as the agency continues to open the station for commercial use.

This selection is a significant step toward enabling the development of independent commercial destinations that meet NASA’s long-terms needs in low-Earth orbit, beyond the life of the space station, and continue to foster the growth of a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of five elements of NASA’s plan to open the ISS to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA’s long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit.

Check out this short clip that was tweeted out by NASA last year, which shows astronaut Christina Koch talking about accessibility in space and the opening of the ISS for business!

Movies in space

Yes, you read that right. Plans for the ISS include feature films and Hollywood actors.

Last year, NASA issued a directive regarding the use of the ISS for commercial and marketing activities, and in May 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that Tom Cruise was going to be filming aboard the ISS (see tweet below)!

Whether it is furthering our scientific understanding through its use as an orbital research laboratory, serving as an outpost for commercial spaceflights, or as a facility that supports commercial ventures such as space tourism and movies, the future holds many possibilities for the ISS, NASA and its international and commercial partners.

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