International Space Station Life Extended Until 2024

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Nasa has extended the life of the International Space Station until 2024, ensuring that humans will have a home beyond Earth for at least another decade.

The first small section of the $100 billion Space Station was launched in 1998, after collaboration between 15 counties from United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan.

The ISS is now almost the size of a football pitch, and is constantly manned by an international crew. More than 200 science experiments are currently on board, providing insights into how future explorers will build, fuel and supply their craft as humans reach further into our Solar System, and possibly - one day - even further.

Original projections for its lifespan said 2020 would be the upper limit for the station's useful life, but Nasa and the White House have now guaranteed at least another four years. It is still possible that the craft will be in operation until 2028, though that will rely on future funding guarantees.

Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa chief of exploration and human spaceflight operations, said it was important to maximise the return on the expensive, but monumental achievement that ISS represents.

The US currently spends $3 billion a year to man, supply and maintain the space station.

"There's some pretty significant benefits in announcing us to go beyond 2020," Gerstenmaier said.

One of the additional benefits will be guaranteeing a long-term market for so-called "commercial" space companies, such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., who are already sending regular unmanned supply ships to the ISS and are aiming to start sending astronauts there by 2017.

Currently Nasa relies on the Russian space program to send its astronauts to the Space Station, as it has no capable launch system of its own.

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