The International Space Station may have its days numbered.
Nasa says it will only fund the ISS until 2028, at the latest, so that it can focus its resources elsewhere.
Among other things, the space agency says it wants to focus on its goal of taking humans to moon’s orbit – which is also known as cislunar space – ahead of going to Mars in the 2030s.
‘We’re going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can,’ said William Gerstenmaier, Nasa’s chief of human spaceflight, last week.
‘Whether it gets filled in by the private sector or not, Nasa’s vision is we’re trying to move out.’
Nasa’s budget, now about $3 billion annually, is expected to rise to about $4 billion by 2020.
But this still isn’t enough to keep both projects going, and the agency hopes private companies will take over its role.
But because Nasa can’t guarantee private groups will built an ISS 2.0, it’s now encouraging companies to take advantage of microgravity research, according to Engadget.
Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden has also asked the government to give tax incentives to companies testing in zero-g to help bolster the research.
Nasa has already begun to develop the technologies to send astronauts back into cislunar space in the late 2020s.
Nasa appears to be heeding the advice of a report by the National Research Council (NRC) in June 2014.
The extensive 286-page report said Nasa would be ‘doomed to fail’ if it didn’t alter its proposed method to get to Mars.
In its report the NRC examined three options for getting to Mars, and said two that included a return to the moon first to test key technologies were favourable.
One idea on the table is that, after the ISS has been decommissioned, Nasa would create a ‘gateway spacecraft’ in lunar orbit.
Astronauts would be able to visit this station, and carry out sorties to the moon. It could potentially also be used as a stopping off point, for fuel and resources, on the way to Mars.
During the advisory council meeting, Gerstenmaier said Nasa doesn’t need the ISS to go into deep space.
‘We gave industry a 10-year horizon,’ he said, adding he’s not sure industry will be ready to take on the ISS.
‘The chances of this are low, but it’s worth a try.’