The International Space Station has been continuously occupied by astronauts for 13 years, and now it looks like it could be operational for at least another decade. (Via NASA)
The White House reportedly gave NASA its support to keep the station running for four extra years, extending ISS's mission to 2024.
The Orlando Sentinel first reported the development, saying the funding could serve as a big boost for exploring our solar system.
The paper says, "After NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. lost the ability to ferry its own astronauts to the station ... Keeping the station going until 2024 gives [private] U.S. companies ... a chance to fly the NASA missions for several years."
Fox News reports the backing will also send a strong message to China, one of NASA's competitors. The Asian country is reportedly planning on building a space station of its own.
NASA has been putting pressure on the government to assist in funding the station to the tune of $3 billion a year — that amount would take a significant chunk out of the agency's $17 billion budget. (Via The Guardian)
The ISS was initially slated to close up shop around 2020. NASA chief of space operations Bill Gerstenmaier said the extended lifeline will encourage the commercial use of the lab complex and give helpful insight into deep space exploration.
According to CBS, Gerstenmaier said, "If we as a species are going to get off the Earth ... and we want to push out beyond low-Earth orbit, we're going to have to use this small foothold called the International Space Station to go do that ... This is our only opportunity to really move forward."
But the Obama administration's backing doesn't guarantee continued funding.
The Los Angeles Times reports Congress must still approve a NASA budget that includes the extension. The ISS will also need the approval of our next president, whoever he or she might be.
The paper adds NASA plans to hire U.S.-based "space taxis" to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS in the absence of the now retired U.S. space shuttle. Those taxis could be ready by 2017 with the continued funding from the government.