Wall Street Journal article....
Space Station Nears an Extension
Plan to Operate Through 2020 Offers Lift for Science; NASA May Feel a Budget Pinch
The U.S. and major foreign partners on the International Space Station have agreed in principle to keep it operating through 2020, at least five years beyond the current deadline, according to government and industry officials.
There had been looming questions about the future of the space station -- which took nearly two decades and more than $100 billion to design and build -- because until now, the major partners hadn't committed to keeping it going past 2015. An extension could give new momentum to the scientific research conducted there, which initially was delayed by false starts and problems finishing assembly of the station.
But prolonging the facility's life, particularly in the midst of the current global economic turmoil, could also force some tough question within the U.S. space program. Washington could have to spend $10 billion or more between 2015 and 2020 to continue using the space station -- potentially siphoning dollars from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's annual budget of more than $18 billion, primarily from projects intended to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020.
The moon-landing initiative faces potentially significant delays unless Congress provides a fresh pot of money to support further space-station operations, according to U.S. industry and government officials. But neither Congress nor the White House wants the political flak for cutting off station operations without reaping the benefits of prior spending. Decisions have been complicated by the fact that arguments between the White House and some lawmakers have held up nominatin of the next NASA administrator.
A NASA spokesman said Thursday that the agency is developing cost estimates for extending station operations through 2020 "in the event the [Obama] administration decided to propose" that option in future budget requests. The agency also said that in the meantime, it "continues to take no steps that would preclude extending station operations."