Nasa and Russia could soon begin talks to extend the life of the International Space Station in order to test life-support systems for the human exploration of the moon.
The International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to cease operations in 2024. This was the date set by President Obama in 2014, when the future of the station was being discussed.
The commitment, subsequently agreed by the international partners Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada guaranteed at least 10 years of funding so that experiments and missions could be planned with certainty.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, appears to be ready to talk about an extension to 2028. Russia signalled its interest in continuing to work in low-Earth orbit at the 33rd US Space Symposium, held last week in Colorado Springs.
Igor Komarov, the head of Roscosmos, even suggested that, if the ISS was not re-commissioned, then Russia would detach some of its modules and use them as an independent station to maintain access to space.
The ISS is a ready-made laboratory in which to test the kind of next-generation life-support systems that will be needed for long-term sustained exploration of the moon and eventually Mars.
At present, the ISS must be continually resupplied with water and the life-support technology is often in need of repair with spare parts that are shipped from Earth. To safely operate a deep-space habitat in orbit around the moon, or on the surface, for long periods, the life-support technology will have to be more efficient than that.