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Space Station, Gently Used: NASA Wants Private Companies to Take Over the International Space Hub

June 6, 2018, 10:07 AM UTC

NASA’s new boss, Jim Bridenstine, has been talking to private companies about taking over the operation of the International Space Station (ISS.)

Bridenstine, who became NASA administrator in April, said in a Washington Post interview that he has “talked to many large corporations that are interested in getting involved in [managing the ISS] through a consortium.”

President Donald Trump’s administration is not interested in funding the orbiting lab, which is a joint operation between NASA and the space agencies of Russia (which has its own section of the satellite) and Japan, Europe and Canada (which share the American section). Back in February, a leaked NASA memo indicated that the White House would pull federal funding for the ISS in 2025.

Rather than dismantling the space station, the memo said, the plan was to “expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.” At the moment, the U.S. spends $3-4 billion a year on the ISS.

The International Space Station’s international nature does of course complicate the idea of the U.S. turning it over to a commercial consortium, and Bridenstine told the Post that he was aware companies may find it “hard to close the business case.” However, he said, the White House has “forced the conversation” and there are still seven years to plan the transition.

Bridenstine also said his top two priorities were the resumption of human spaceflight from the U.S.—since 2011, American astronauts have relied on Russian transportation to get to the ISS—and going back to the Moon with the help of a new, nearby outpost that could ferry supplies there.