When a rocket taking the first module of the International Space Station blasted off from Kazakhstan in November of 1998, NASA officials said that the station would serve as an orbiting home for astronauts and cosmonauts for at least 15 years.

It’s been more than 18 years that the station was continuously occupied by people. The spot is striking, with more living space than the usual six-bedroom house, 2 baths and a large bay window for looking down at Earth.

NASA and its international partners have spent decades and more than $100 billion to make the station a real possibility. The difficulty is, since the agency puts its sights on returning people to the skies, the aging station is getting a fiscal burden. And it’s not yet determined what its future holds.

NASA spends between $3 billion and $4 billion per year working on the station and flying people back and on. That is roughly half of the agency’s budget for individual exploration of space.

The United States and the other participating nations have vowed to invest in the station until at least 2024, but it is going to surely go longer compared to that. Gilles Leclerc, mind of space exploration at the Canadian Space Agency, says there isn’t any way that the worldwide partners would bond in five decades and decide to just crash the station into the ocean to so that funds might be directed to additional distance goals.

“It would be considered a waste. We can’t ditch the International Space Station. There’s simply too much spent,” says Leclerc. “It’s pretty clear, it’s unanimous between your partners which we continue to desire a space station in low Earth orbit.”

Thus NASA has floated one money-saving idea: turn the space station up to the personal industry. That is why, a couple weeks before, NASA officials held a major press event at the Nasdaq stock market’s MarketSite in nyc.

“NASA is launching the international space station to commercial chances and promotion these chances as we’ve never done before,” said the agency’s chief fiscal officer, Jeff dew-it. “The commercialization of low Earth orbit will enable NASA to target resources to property the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024, because the initial phase in creating a sustainable lunar presence to prepare for upcoming missions to Mars.”

Astronaut Christina Koch appeared in video beamed down from distance. “We are so eager to be part of NASA as our home and lab in distance alterations to into being accessible to enlarged commercial and marketing opportunities, and to private astronauts,” she said.

All this produced an awareness of déjà vu at John Logsdon, a distance historian with George Washington University. In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s government first suggested building a permanent space station, part of this pitch was”the notion that it might be an area for a vast array of commercial tasks, together with billions of dollars of financial payoff,” says Logsdon. “Here we have been in 2019, going to test this theory.”

When reporters asked how much earnings may appear in from brand new commercial tasks on the station, nevertheless, NASA officials wouldn’t provide some amounts, saying there was too much doubt.

“The 1 2 industry studies NASA commissioned past year estimated revenue forecasts for prospective low-Earth orbit destinations across an assortment of markets, and those projections varied significantly as a result of uncertainty connected with those prospective markets,” a NASA spokesperson told NPR. “The services and markets that will generate revenue need to be cultivated with the creative and entrepreneurial private industry.”

“This is the ideal answer since they don’t know yet,” says Tommy Sanford, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

However, if the distance station became commercially-operated and sometimes maybe independently owned, NASA can turn out to be just one of the main clients.

“you’ll want to be focused on adding as much clients as possible and expecting to accomplish a tipping point, sooner or later, at which you retain all of them,” says Sanford. “Then that eventually lowers your cost, because you’re among the several clients. You aren’t bearing the entire cost of their infrastructure and transport .”

“Candidly, the scant business interest shown in the station over its nearly twenty decades of performance give us pause about the agency’s present plans,” NASA Inspector General Paul Martin told members of Congress last year.

As every one of these discussions go on, the station keeps becoming older. Space can be a harsh setting. The hardware is deteriorating, and major components are only certified until 2028.

“There may be some elements of distance station that the private [sector] might be able to shoot more than a module or two,” she states. “All of that should be placed into place, probably with government funds .”

Eventually, big elements of the station is going to need to crash back down to Earth. Asked when NASA expected to deorbit the station, a spokesperson for the agency said that no particular season has been targeted.

“Transition from the space station will occur once commercial habitable destinations are all available and can support NASA’s needs as one of the most significant clients,” the spokesperson said.