In less than 10 years, the International Space Station—the site of many an interstellar marvel—will become a relic in Earthling’s minds, vanishing like it never existed. NASA plans to decommission the orbital outpost at the end of 2030 and actualize the ISS’s retirement by crashing it into the Pacific Ocean in January 2031.
The space station, which made its maiden launch in 1998 and was first occupied by humans in 2000, is destined to make its descent home alone—with no humans on board—before sharply plunging into a very remote area often dubbed the “spacecraft cemetery,” reports Gizmodo.
Point Nemo, as the crash zone is called, is 1,670 miles away from the closest inhabited area.
Although a 2030 date is expected, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, warns the news outlet that this deadline could arrive earlier, since NASA hasn’t disclosed if partnering space forces, like the one in Russia, would agree to back the ISS through 2030.
Be that as it may, with the outpost’s retirement, NASA will hand over the keys of space exploration efforts to a private sector, whose activities will continue to be supported by the space agency.
“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” explains Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters. Combined with the resources of private entities, NASA will continue “sharing our lessons learned and operations experience… to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space.”
The ISS was, in actual fact, scheduled to retire in 2024, but the Biden-Harris administration quietly prolonged its operations to last through 2030. It is believed that this will be the last extension.
As it approaches its last legs, the ISS is reported by NASA to be “busier than ever” and entering its “most productive decade,” as well as paving way for more diversity in space exploration roles.
“Today’s youth are tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, and researchers,” notes the space agency. “It is thus crucial to our nation and NASA’s efforts to maintain the interest and curiosity of today’s students so they continue to be inspired by and participate in the wide scope of space exploration roles.”