NASA administrator Michael Griffin expects his agency to change its International Space Station policy and extend its use of the orbital complex beyond 2016. In 2004, the agency revealed plans to stop funding the ISS in 2017 and divert the money to Moon missions. Internal NASA documents say flights of the planned Orion crew exploration vehicle to the ISS will end in 2016, even though its maiden flight is not expected before March 2015.

But now discussions with other space agencies on a global exploration strategy are expected to lead to an extension of the US involvement in the ISS, to 2020 at least. "[The ISS partners] have all been working for a decade and half to put in place these four laboratories," says Griffin, referring to the US, Russian, European and Japanese science modules. "I don't think [political] leaders [in 2016] will end their involvement. Assets like [the ISS] live a lot longer than anticipated. I doubt it will turn into a pumpkin in 2016."

In February NASA Constellation exploration systems programme manager Jeffrey Hanley suggested the agency would extend station use to 2020 (Flight International, 6-12 February). NASA's exploration systems associate administrator Scott Horowitz also expects ISS to be used for developing the technologies for long-duration lunar orbit missions envisaged for future versions of Orion.

Last week NASA unveiled a new 2007 Shuttle mission schedule. Atlantis/STS-117 has a 12-week delay to 8 June, Endeavour/STS-118 is moved to 9 August, Discovery replaces Atlantis for STS-120, now scheduled for 20 October, and in December Discovery is substituted for Atlantis for STS-122.

Source: Flight International