NASA says it plans to retire the International Space Station in 2031 by crashing it into an uninhabited stretch of the Pacific Ocean.
Phil McAlister, who is the director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters, said in a press release that the private sector will be taking the lead on the development of future space station projects and that NASA will assist in ensuring a smooth handover.
“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” he said. “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.”
The extension of operations at the space station until 2030 was backed by the Biden administration and the station is “busier than ever” conducting experiments for government agencies and advancing technologies to send the first woman and first person of color to the moon, and the first humans to Mars.
“The International Space Station is entering its third and most productive decade as a groundbreaking scientific platform in microgravity,” Robyn Gatens, director of the space station at NASA Headquarters, said in the release.
The space station first launched in November 1998 and has orbited the Earth over 100,000 times. In October 2026, the spacecraft will begin its journey back toward Earth and crash at Point Nemo in January 2031, according to the transition report attached to the release.
A goal outlined in the transition report is to engage a diverse group of students to create a future diverse space workforce.
“Today’s youth are tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, and researchers,” NASA said. “It is thus crucial to our nation and NASA’s efforts to maintain the interest and curiosity of today’s students so they continue to be inspired by and participate in the wide scope of space exploration roles.”
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: SMITHSONIAN MAG