The space station race



Staff member
The space station race - Vox

The ISS will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in a few years, paving the way for new businesses in space.

The International Space Station brings together astronauts from around the world to collaborate on cutting-edge research, and some have called it humanity’s greatest achievement. But after two decades in orbit, the ISS will shut down, and a crop of several new space stations will take its place. While these new stations will make it easier for more humans to visit space, they’re also bound to create new political and economic tensions.

NASA is scaling back its presence in low-Earth orbit as the government focuses on sending humans back to the moon and, eventually, to Mars. As part of that transition, the space agency wants to rent out facilities for its astronauts on new space stations run by private companies. When these stations are ready, NASA will guide the ISS into the atmosphere, where it will burn up and disintegrate. At that point, anyone hoping to work in space will have to choose among several different outposts. That means countries won’t just be using these new stations to strengthen their own national space programs, but as lucrative business ventures, too.

“Commercial companies have the capability now to do this, and so we don’t want to compete with that,” Robyn Gatens, the director of the ISS, told Recode. “We want to transition lower-Earth orbit over to commercial companies so that the government and NASA can go use resources to do harder things in deep space.”