New NASA chief vows US will always have astronauts in orbit

WASHINGTON  — Major changes could be ahead for the International Space Station, but there will always be an American astronaut in orbit, NASA’s new boss said this past week.

The space agency is already talking with private companies about potentially taking over the space lab after 2025, but no decision will be made without the other 21 countries that are partners in the project, NASA Administrator James Bridenstine said in his first briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump’s recent budget requests have put discussions about the station’s future “on steroids,” he said. Under Trump’s 2019 proposed budget, U.S. funding for the space station would end by 2025. The U.S. has spent more than $75 billion on the space station.

Options include splitting the station into different segments or reducing its size by breaking it up and discarding one part.

But no matter what happens, there won’t be any gap when Americans aren’t in space, Bridenstine vowed. It won’t be like after the Apollo moon program closed, or the retirement of the space shuttle fleet that has forced NASA to pay Russia to ferry astronauts to the station.

In wide-ranging remarks, the former Oklahoma Republican congressman said he generally supports NASA’s Earth science missions, including missions that monitor heat-trapping carbon dioxide. He said at least three climate science satellites that the Trump administration had tried to cancel earlier in budget proposals “could all end up in very good shape” and that he supported them in Congress, crossing party lines.

“We’re going forth with missions that are going to do carbon monitoring,” he said, ticking off a couple of projects. “We’re committed to that.”



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