The termination of the U.S. space shuttle program in late July has left a momentary lull in space exploration. If that lull lasts until 2020, the International Space Station (I.S.S.) will likely be plunged to its watery grave in the Pacific Ocean. But private enterprise is already lining up to help extend the station’s life to 2028. “It is likely that I.S.S. will be extended beyond the current time frame and such extension may involve some public-private partnership,” says George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic C.E.O. and a former N.A.S.A. chief of staff.
What’s the Big Idea?
As national budgets writhe under the strain of the global economic slowdown, few politicians can be expected to support aggressive public space exploration projects. But politicians and scientists can be glad that private enterprise is already demonstrating leadership. 2020 is both the I.S.S.’s scheduled termination date and the year the Chinese plan to launch their own space station. “The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said this week that it believes it is critical to keep the I.S.S. aloft so China’s station isn’t the only one come the 2020s.”