The nations collectively working on the International Space Station (ISS) are mulling over the possibility of extending its mission life through 2020, it has recently been reported.
More than 20 years of development and $100 billion of research funds have been invested into the ISS by the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, European Space Agency (ESA), and several other partners. The participating countries expected the ISS to work through 2015, but decided further research could take place at the space outpost over an additional five years.
The first stage of the ISS was sent into orbit in 1998, as 15 nations came together to advance mankind with expected scientific breakthroughs that could be used on Earth. A number of major setbacks, including the Columbia space shuttle explosion six years ago, helped delay construction on the ISS -- in fact, Japan hasn't been able to launch its ISS space module until recently.
The ISS won't be completed until late 2009 or sometime in 2010 when NASA plans to retire its current generation of space shuttles. Furthermore, researchers are just now seeing scientific results from using the ISS as a mobile space research laboratory, and the additional five years could be greatly beneficial.
Until NASA is able to launch its next-generation Orion shuttle, the U.S. space agency will be forced to fly to the ISS on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
NASA is currently crunching numbers "in the event the [Obama] administration decided to propose" a possible extension and budget requests for the ISS extension. The U.S. space agency believes operating the ISS an additional five years doesn't "pose any significant challenges" and the countries involved are "committed to work with their respective governments."