NASA plans to 'move out' of the ISS on its way to the Moon

Anybody working on an ISS successor can count the agency out.

During a meeting with NASA's advisory panel, William Gerstenmaier (the agency's chief of human spaceflight) has pretty much confirmed that the agency isn't working on a successor to the ISS. NASA isn't even thinking of funding the current one beyond 2024 (2028 at the latest), because its new primary goal is to bring humans to the moon's orbit a.k.a. cislunar space. "We're going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can," Gerstenmaier said, according to Ars Technica. "Whether it gets filled in by the private sector or not, NASA's vision is we're trying to move out." The agency has no choice but to leave low Earth orbit (LEO) behind, because it can't afford funding both projects at the same time.

NASA is apparently hoping for the private sector -- the same space companies ferrying supplies to the ISS -- to take its place in low Earth orbit. But since the agency can't help or force them to make an ISS 2.0, it's now telling companies to take advantage of microgravity research while it's still shouldering most of the costs of sending studies to the space station. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is even trying to convince the government to give tax incentives to companies that ask them to test materials or products in zero-g.

The agency's move to cislunar space doesn't come as a surprise: NASA has been talking about taking us farther out into space until we reach Mars for a long time. In fact, its new gargantuan rocket (the Space Launch System) could fly to the lunar orbit with four crew members aboard the Orion capsule as soon as 2021.

[Image credit: jaycatalano/Flickr]