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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 24, 2009

Space panel urges longer life for space station

The preliminary report of a blue-ribbon space policy panel on Sept. 8, 2009, nudged forward several promises made by Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. One of those was to "consider options" to extend the operations of the International Space Station beyond 2016. "After investing so much in developing the ISS, it would be a shame not to utilize it to the fullest possible extent," Obama said.

A 12-page summary of findings was released by the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, a panel more commonly known as the Augustine Committee after its chairman, Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin. The panel explicitly addressed the question of how long the ISS should operate, and its language echoed the president's.

"The committee finds that the return on investment of (the International Space Station) to both the United States and the international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life to 2020," the summary said. "It seems unwise to de-orbit the station after 25 years of assembly and only five years of operational life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international space flight partnerships. Further, the ISS should be funded to enable it to achieve its full potential: as the nation's newest national laboratory, as an enhanced test bed for technologies and operational techniques that support exploration, and as a framework that can support expanded international collaboration."

Officially, the Augustine panel's findings are merely options for the Obama administration, and as of this writing, the full report has not been released. But the panel's deliberations are being taken very seriously in NASA, at the White House, in Congress and in the larger space community. If Obama had promised outright to continue the ISS after 2016, we'd consider this promise In the Works. But all Obama promised was to "consider options" to do that. Since the Augustine Committee has aggressively taken up this issue — and in ways that echo what the president in his promise seemed inclined to do — we rate this a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, summary report , Sept. 8, 2009

E-mail interviews with Edward Ellegood, space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, September 2009

E-mail interviews with Marcia Smith of, September 2009

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