The Biden administration has approved plans to keep the International Space Station operating until 2030, despite growing political tensions with Russia.
Dating back to an agreement signed in 1998, the station has seen two decades of international cooperation in space, largely untroubled by any political problems on earth.
Congress had approved funding until the end of 2024, now the US is willing to extend its life for another six years.
The ISS is, however, ageing. The laboratory has sprung leaks and encountered technical problems and Nasa is looking for the private sector to develop plans to replace it.
Nasa announced the additional funding the day after Vladimir Putin warned Joe Biden that additional western sanctions imposed because of the Ukraine crisis would lead to a “complete rupture of relations.”
Bill Nelson, Nasa’s administrator, hailed the station as benefitting diplomacy as well as science, when he announced the funding.
“The International Space Station is a beacon of peaceful international scientific collaboration and for more than 20 years has returned enormous scientific, educational and technological developments to benefit humanity,” he said.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency, was more succinct when interviewed by CNN.
“This is a family, where a divorce within a station is not possible,” he said.
The funding deal comes at a time when China is being seen as an increasingly powerful rival in the space race.
There are plans for privately funded space stations from Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman.
But they are unlikely to be ready before the end of the decade, which is understood to be a factor behind the decision to extend the space station’s funding.
“There is a lot of money invested in the space station,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Centre, told The Telegraph.
“They don’t want to throw away the billions of dollars they have invested already.
“The space station will need replacing, but where will they get the money to do that this and the Artemis programme to send astronauts to the moon by 2025.”
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