NASA to Outsource Space Station's Science Projects

NASA is looking to hand over controlof U.S. science experimentson the International Space Station to a nonprofit organization, thespaceagency announced today (Dec. 2).

The space agency issued a call for"an independent,nonprofit research management organization to develop and manage theU.S.portion of the station," according to the Dec. 2 statement.

The International Space Station is a $100billion orbiting lab built by 15 countries working under fiveinternationalagencies ? NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the European SpaceAgency,the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Constructionof the space station began in 1998 and will be completed in2011.

The U.S. portion of the outpost wasdesignated a NationalLaboratory in 2005 to open its facilities for use by non-NASAresearchers. [Graphic:Inside and Out: The International Space Station]

"NASA recognizes the station is anextraordinary assetfor the nation," NASA chief Charles Bolden said. "Scientific researchand development and education are critical to our national growth andprosperity as a high-technology society. The station offers exceptionalopportunities to contribute to this growth. By taking this action, weareensuring the station is available for broad, meaningful and sustaineduse."

The plan to seek a nonprofitorganization to manage theseresearch activities was set out in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010,a billpassed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in October2010. Thatbill also extended the lifespan of the space station from a planned2015decommissioning to at least 2020.

Over the last decade, more than 400scientific experimentsin fields such as biology, human physiology, physical andmaterials science, and Earth and spacescience have been conducted on the spacestation.

As of Nov. 2, the InternationalSpace Station has been continuouslyoccupied by humans for more than 10 years. It is also thelongest continuallystaffed space station in history.

NASA will hold a public forum forinterested parties tolearn more about the partnership on Dec. 10.

"The organization will stimulate usesof the station asa national laboratory and maximize the U.S. investment in thisinitiative," NASA officials said in the statement. "The selectedorganization will capitalize on the unique venue of the orbitinglaboratory asa national resource; and develop and manage a diversified research anddevelopment portfolio based on U.S. needs for basic and appliedresearch in avariety of fields."

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.