The White House has approved NASA's call for four more years for the International Space Station, ensuring that the orbiting science laboratory will keep going for another decade, according to documents obtained by The Orlando Sentinel.
The newspaper writes:
"The decision follows years of pressure by top NASA officials, who consider the station a critical steppingstone to future exploration. But a four-year extension likely would cost NASA about $3 billion a year from 2021 to 2024. That's a major chunk of the agency's annual budget, which is now about $17 billion, and a longer mission could force NASA to make tough financial decisions in the future."
"The administration's approval, however, doesn't guarantee that the station, which has been continuously occupied since 2000, will survive past its current end date of 2020. At some point, Congress must approve a NASA budget that includes an extension of the station's life. The plan also must get the support of whoever wins the White House in 2016 though the backing of President Barack Obama now might make it harder for the next administration to renege."
Meanwhile, Space.com reports that a huge solar flare has delayed the launch of a supply mission to the space station by private firm Orbital Sciences.
"Early this morning the Antares launch team decided to scrub today's launch attempt due to an unusually high level of space radiation that exceeded by a considerable margin the constraints imposed on the mission to ensure the rocket's electronic systems are not impacted by a harsh radiation environment," Orbital Sciences officials said in a statement Wednesday.
Space.com says the solar flare poses no threat to the six astronauts currently aboard the station. But it does push back the already delayed resupply mission, which was originally set to launch in mid-December and then was put on hold as spacewalking astronauts performed emergency repairs to the station's cooling system.