Trump administration wants to end NASA funding for the International Space Station by 2025

The International Space Station
Image: NASA

The Trump administration is preparing to end support for the International Space Station program by 2025, according to a draft budget proposal reviewed by The Verge. Without the ISS, American astronauts could be grounded on Earth for years with no destination in space until NASA develops new vehicles for its deep space travel plans.

The draft may change before an official budget request is released on February 12th. However, two people familiar with the matter have confirmed to The Verge that the directive will be in the final proposal. NASA says it won’t comment on the request until it’s released. “NASA and the International Space Station partnership is committed to full scientific and technical research on the orbiting laboratory, as it is the foundation on which we will extend human presence deeper into space,” a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. “We will not comment on any leaked or pre-decisional documents prior to the release of the President’s FY19 budget, which is scheduled for February 12.”

Any budget proposal from the Trump administration will also be subject to scrutiny and approval by Congress. But even announcing the intention to cancel ISS funding could send a signal to NASA’s international partners that the US is no longer interested in continuing the program. Many of NASA’s partners still have yet to decide if they’d like to continue working on the station beyond 2024.

The International Space Station has been an ongoing program for more than two decades. It costs NASA between $3 to $4 billion each year, and represents a more than $87 billion investment from the US government. It’s become a major hub for conducting both government and commercial experiments in microgravity, as well as testing out how the human body responds to weightlessness.

NASA pledged to keep the International Space Station program funded through 2024, thanks to an extension made by the Obama administration in 2014. But after that, the station’s fate has been up in the air. Congress has openly discussed what to do with the ISS after its funding runs out, but has not made a firm decision on a plan. Many in the commercial space industry want NASA to extend the program again through 2028: the year that many consider to be the end of its operational lifetime. That would give NASA time to figure out a way to transition operations of the ISS to the commercial sector full-time or time for companies to establish a commercial module in lower Earth orbit. However, commercial companies have indicated they may not be ready to do this by 2024.

Image: NASA

The NASA Transition Authorization Act that President Trump signed last year directed the space agency to come up with a way to transition the ISS away from mostly NASA funding. The plan was due to Congress by December 1st, 2017, however NASA did not release any public information as to whether or not it had delivered the report.

Congress and others are eager to get the International Space Station off of NASA’s dime, to help fund the development of vehicles needed to explore deep space. NASA has been developing both a giant rocket, the Space Launch System, and a crew capsule, Orion, to take astronauts beyond lower Earth orbit. But with Trump’s recent directive to return NASA astronauts to the Moon, the space agency is going to need a lot more hardware to pull off its human spaceflight plans. Going back to the Moon and establishing a more permanent presence there will require a lander, habitats, and more technology needed to keep astronauts alive. And NASA is facing flat budgets in the years ahead; getting rid of the ISS would potentially free up billions to help fund those technologies.

But canceling the ISS too early without a viable replacement could lead to a gap of human activities in lower Earth orbit. A similar scenario played out in 2011, when the Space Shuttle program ended. The Obama administration had canceled NASA’s initiative to return to the Moon, known as the Constellation program, leaving the space agency without a way to get its astronauts into space. The plan was for commercial companies to step in and start sending astronauts to lower Earth orbit, instead. That idea evolved into the Commercial Crew program, where two companies — SpaceX and Boeing — have been working on spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. But nearly seven years after the end of the Shuttle program, the companies aren’t ready to carry people to orbit and likely won’t be for another year or more. That has left NASA to rely on Russian vehicles to carry humans to space.

Commercial partners, such as SpaceX, are tasked with regularly launching cargo to the ISS
Image: SpaceX

Losing the ISS would be a major loss to the commercial space industry, which has come to rely on the station to test out new technologies. Small satellite operators have launched their probes from the ISS, while the weightless environment of the lab allows companies to see if their hardware is ready for space. Bigelow Aerospace, which builds inflatable space habitats, has been testing out a prototype of one of its modules on the space station for nearly two years now. NASA has also used the station to learn more about how long-duration space flight affects the human body, key information that will be needed when people make the lengthy journey to Mars.

Additionally, the Commercial Crew program will be getting into full swing just as the ISS is about to end. A recent government audit found that both SpaceX and Boeing won’t be certified to start sending astronauts to the ISS until late 2019 or early 2020. That gives them just five years to do regular runs to the space station.

Beyond all of its scientific and commercial benefits, the ISS has been a cornerstone of international cooperation. NASA operates the ISS in partnership with Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, and astronauts from Canada, Europe, and Japan have all lived on the station. It’s possible NASA could get those same benefits by partnering with other countries on an ambitious lunar return, but this move would sacrifice what has become a staple of the US space program.

Update January 25th, 12:34PM ET: This article was updated to include a comment from NASA.

Comments

the end of the world in sight

Just plain stupid!

Really? Sounds obvious to me.

If its an either/or proposition (and by all counts, it is) pushing money into manned missions to the moon and prep for Mars is a no brainer.

Else what are we going to do with the SLS?

Except the either/or part is artificially imposed.

Or we could stop overly inflating our overly inflated defense budget and actually give NASA decent funding…

Isn’t NASA included in the defense budget? I think a lot of stuff runs through the defense budget including research programs/grants that are awarded to universities.

In a word, no. NASA, and DOD have their own budgets. And the DOD budget doesn’t even include things like the department of homeland security, etc. Not to mention the "black" projects that aren’t mentioned in the budget. By the way the department of justice has a budget twice the size of NASA. Where does THAT money go?!

The defense budget goes to pay for many large corporations and thus workers in those companies. The defense industry is a huge backbone of the country and supports a huge number of families.

And the aerospace industry doesn’t employ people? This wouldn’t be a net loss in jobs, it would just a switch focus of that effort from saber rattling to scientific discovery. Another way to think about it is, a 10% reduction in defense spending (~$64B) could more than quadruple the NASA budget (currently $18B).

For those who might not know.

Up until about four or five years ago, since NASA was created, the military budget was more every year, and what NASA got for that total amount of time.

That’s right, 1 year military budget = about 50 years NASA budget.

So, if you ever hear anyone spouting off the tired old argument of how we should stop giving NASA so much funding and spend that money on people, tell them that we could stop military spending for one week and likely get as much as NASA gets in a year.

I think we should end funding for Trump’s oxygen supply

If he wants oxygen, he should have to pay the taxpayers $1/second of oxygen

It says the ISS should be terminated in 2028 because it’s too old anyway. Considering it already lasted longer than initially planned, I can see why they want to end it in 2024.

They just added "Trump" in the title so that people against him would oppose the idea without thinking, guessed it worked. Sad to see whether people are for or against him, they’re easily manipulated by simply mentioning him. Even when it’s his administration and not even him himself taking the decision.

You don’t need "Trump" in the headline. Just put "ending funding" with any kind of important space research project and people wont be happy. Are the people currently running the ISS program wanting to end it by 2024? I and many others weren’t happy with Obama era funding for space programs either.

From my limited knowledge, much of the components and design aren’t rated for life after 2024. At that point, the cost to repair and replace to sustain proper and safe conditions becomes greater than what I think NASA could get budget for.

Why are there so many people up in arms about them mentioning Trump? It’s his administration that will make the call, just like everyone that reported about Obama ending the space shuttle program. It’s the same.

Some sensitive folks here.

I recall people being up in arms against Obama when that occurred.

Maybe you should have the read the article first before commenting. I know insulting Trump feels cool and makes you look edgy, but please for god sake.

It is true that Trump want to stop ISS funding, but instead he want to focus more so that NASA can actually land people on moon again.

Whether that is a good thing or not, he didn’t just stop NASA funding on a whim, just different policy than Obama.

"The Obama administration had canceled NASA’s initiative to return to the Moon, known as the Constellation program, leaving the space agency without a way to get its astronauts into space."—> Do you also think that government should end Obama’s oxygen supply when this happened?

At least look at the brightside, ISS is a 2 decade old program that will already past its due.The best option for NASA of course is if they can get funding for ISS and moon mission, but the government have to divide the money, including giving it to illegal immigrant (I don’t think it is wrong, they are still a human after all that deserve respect and human treatment). But you can’t expect Trump solve every problem, nor Obama can.

If you think you are a liberal, at least try to be a good liberal.

definition from Google : concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience,

Makes sense Trump wants to get back to moon, like they (the USA) did in 1969.

His other policies are also something out of 1969, specially in terms of Civil Rights.

can’t be that I think he’s a terrible person

I’d like see the reasoning.
The ISS is very expensive. Is it a sinkhole of funds and resources that could be pointed at the Moon or Mars? Is that the motivation?

Who is pushing for this? Is it something NASA itself wants?

Throwing "Trump" in there is a bit of a cheap shot.

The ISS is getting old. They didn’t plan for it to last as long as it has and, at some point, it will become dangerous to inhabit (same as mir did). Now I don’t know where that point is or how long it can be extended, but the repairs and upgrades will no doubt cost a pretty penny. If the new owners don’t take care of their white elephant then it might crash on someone’s house or kill it’s own crew by accident.

If launch costs are dropping then replacing the station may be the better option. So We should have created a plan for what comes next. Spending money to keep an aging station in orbit just to say it’s there is unwise.

It’s modular so it can be upgraded. Provides interest to kids else they become hair dressers or media studies wimps. No thanks!

Well, maybe I read Trump differently.
I think vanity is his primary sin, but I suspect he’s no monster. He wants to be known for great things. Were it entirely on him he’d try to rebrand the space effort so that it looks like it’s greatness is his doing. He’d probably want the lunar mission and he’d want to keep the iss…
…But there’s a cost to this, and he needs lots of other things to happen on the same budget. The iss retirement was in the planning long before he came along. Going to the moon, if the mission starts soon, would be seen as his doing while Keeping the iss wont. Losing the iss isn’t really his fault since all of our partners planned for it to end soon.
If the stations time can be monetized then we can pay for some maintenance and make a better argument for keeping it. Otherwise you’d be making an administration choose between a dying project that gets them no accolades vs a brilliant new project that will capture the voters attention.
I think we know what he would choose, so the best we can expect is that they’ll kick the can to 2025 just so the deorbit doesn’t happen during his watch.

This is the problem of political dynamics. From an image point of view is better to fund new initiatives than maintenance. But given the 87B$ invested in the ISS I would try to maximize that investement as much as possible. Eventually there would be no need for the ISS with a permanent base on the Moon, no?

The ISS provides a platform for long term experiments in microgravity. It will always be cheaper to get to Earth orbit than to the moon, so removing the capacity to perform those kinds of experiments is short sighted.

Furthermore, from a space exploration standpoint, some form of orbital way-station will likely be necessary for the foreseeable future. The kinds of technologies being developed for interplanetary travel would be best deployed from orbit, and so having some kind of pre-existing station there would be logical.

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