The International Space Station (ISS) has been orbiting the Earth at a distance of about 220 miles for years. The ISS has seen its share of problems and budget cuts over the years that have resulted in a somewhat neutered space station.
Michael T. Suffredini, the NASA space station program manager, has announced that despite the fact that the ISS is only now nearing completion, there are already plans to de-orbit the station. The last of the components for the ISS are set to be in place next year and according to Suffredini, the station is currently planned to crash back to Earth in 2016.
"In the first quarter of 2016, we'll prep and de-orbit the spacecraft," said Suffredini.
The real problem is the lack of long term funding for the ISS, which has been estimated to have cost the U.S. and its partners $100 billion to construct. Ironically, the huge cost of the station could end up being its saving grace.
Senator Bill Nelson said, "If we've spent a hundred billion dollars, I don't think we want to shut it down in 2015."
Nelson told the Washington Post, "My opinion is it would be a travesty to de-orbit this thing. If we get rid of this darned thing in 2015, we're going to cede our leadership in human exploration."
The Washington Post reports that there is no official lobbying going on to extend the ISS' mission, but NASA is conducting a review of the station to see what it would take to extend the operation of the ISS through the late 2020's.
With the space shuttle fleet retiring at the end of 2010, astronauts will only be able to reach the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA will reportedly pay Russia $51 million for each manned launch to the ISS.
Hubble senior project scientist David Leckrone said, "Whether it (the ISS) was a great investment or not to begin with, having made that investment, I think it's imperative for the United States to extract value -- real, honest-to-God scientific value -- out of that investment."