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Potential Gap in Space Stations Worries Science Committee

FEB 20, 2024
NASA plans to transition to using commercially produced and operated stations in LEO.
Jacob Taylor headshot
Senior Editor for Science Policy, FYI American Institute of Physics
ISS seen from Dragon 2021.jpg

The International Space Station pictured from a SpaceX module that brought astronauts to the station in 2021.

(SpaceX / NASA, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

A House Science Committee hearing last week focused on the challenges associated with decommissioning the International Space Station and NASA’s transition to using commercially built and managed stations in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Witnesses and representatives alike argued there should be a seamless transition from the ISS to future stations, especially given competition from China. “If another station is not operable by the time ISS retires, the Chinese station may be the only human-occupied station available to scientists for LEO research,” Space Subcommittee Chair Brian Babin (R-TX) said in his opening statement.

Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) raised concerns about the potential for a gap in U.S. presence in LEO, the potential that federally funded microgravity research gets “lost in the shuffle” of the transition to commercial space stations, and the financial risks if NASA ends up being the only sustainable market for commercial space stations, among other issues.

Mary Lynne Dittmar, the chief government and external relations manager at Axiom Space, said that “there is no clear path” to seamlessly transitioning from the ISS to commercial stations under current funding levels and called for Congress to make a “course correction.”

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