NASA intends to keep operating the International Space Station until the end of 2030, after which the ISS would be crashed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo, according to newly published plans outlining its future.
Launched in 2000, the space lab has orbited 227 nautical miles above Earth with more than 200 astronauts from 19 different countries enjoying stints aboard – representing a continuous human presence in space.
NASA said that commercially operated space platforms would replace the ISS as a venue for collaboration and scientific research.
“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance. We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters in a statement.
“The report we have delivered to Congress describes, in detail, our comprehensive plan for ensuring a smooth transition to commercial destinations after retirement of the International Space Station in 2030.”
In the International Space Station Transition Report, NASA said the plan was for the ISS to fall to Earth in an area known as the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area – also known as Point Nemo. The report said that its budget estimate assumed that the deorbit would happen in January 2031.
Named after the submarine sailor in Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” Point Nemo is the point in the ocean that is farthest from land and has been a watery grave for many other spacecraft.
The area is approximately 3,000 miles off of New Zealand’s eastern coast and 2,000 miles north of Antarctica and it’s estimated that space-faring nations such as the US, Russia, Japan and European countries have sunk more than 263 pieces of space debris there since 1971.
The report said the ISS would perform thrusting maneuvers that would ensure “safe atmospheric entry.”
The ISS won’t rest on its laurels for the next eight years. NASA said goals for the next decade including using the ISS as “analog for a Mars transit mission,” according to the report.
“The International Space Station is entering its third and most productive decade as a groundbreaking scientific platform in microgravity,” said Robyn Gatens, director of the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters, said in the statement.
“This third decade is one of results, building on our successful global partnership to verify exploration and human research technologies to support deep space exploration, continue to return medical and environmental benefits to humanity, and lay the groundwork for a commercial future in low-Earth orbit.”
“We look forward to maximizing these returns from the space station through 2030 while planning for transition to commercial space destinations that will follow.”
The space station has been home to many scientific firsts. The first item to be 3D-printed on the space station occurred in 2014. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA in space for the first time in 2016. And the fifth state of matter, called a Bose-Einstein condensate, was produced in space by NASA’s Cold Atom Lab on the station in 2018.
Astronauts have learned how to grow lettuces and leafy greens in space. The first space-grown salad was sampled by astronauts in 2015. Now, they’re even growing radishes and chilis on the station. This could be used to one day help astronauts grow their own food on deep space missions.
China, whose astronauts have long been excluded from the ISS, launched the first module of its planned space station last year. While not as large as the ISS, the Chinese space station is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year.
Russia has said it will leave the ISS project in 2025 and plans to build its own space station that could launch in 2030.
CNN’s Ashley Strickland contributed to this report