The International Space Station Will Crash Into the Pacific Ocean in 2031

It will be a “deliberate” crash as NASA intends to retire the ISS in 2030. To fund exploration on the Moon and Mars, NASA will hand over low-orbit stations and travel to the private sector. 
IMAGE NASA

It’s the end of an era in space exploration as NASA will soon retire the International Space Station. Since 1998, the ISS has been a pillar in the fields of astronomy, meteorology, physics, and more. While the ISS is most known for being the destination with the best view from space, the station is more than just a symbol for science. The low orbit laboratory houses countless experiments for government agencies, academia, and commercial users, but its time is coming to an end. 

Photo by NASA.

Why is the ISS closing? 

NASA will step back to let commercial crews and companies take over low-orbit stations as the agency focuses on its missions to the Moon and Mars. Companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Atlantic are engaged in an intense competition called the “space race,” and this is only concerning spaceflight. The commercial space economy is finally gaining momentum, and companies Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman are already in the process of designing the commercial successor to the ISS.

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“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance. We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters. 

Journeying to the Moon and Mars won’t be cheap. With the current state of the economy and the expensive cost of maintaining the ISS, it’s largely believed that its retirement is a compromise to free up budget restraints to fund other projects.

Photo by NASA.

What does this mean to the future of space travel?

With space going commercial, this means that soon, space travel will be streamlined in the same way as riding a train or booking a flight. It might take a few decades to get there, but the transition from government control to commercial control opens a door of possibilities. 

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The ISS was never meant to stay up there forever. At 20 years old, it’s in need of constant maintenance and upgrades. A new station will be retrofitted with the latest technology and mark the beginning of a new era in space travel. We could even see a station being a pitstop for future journeys to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. 

The ISS was actually meant to retire in 2024, but the Biden-Harris administration has opted to extend NASA’s support until 2030. It’s important to note that the ISS is an international collaboration between NASA (U.S.), Rocosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). With the ISS soon retiring, the future of this particular alliance is unclear.  

Photo by UNSPLASH, NASA.

What happens to the ISS now? 

The ISS will retire in 2030 and then crash into the Pacific Ocean in 2031. Space junk already orbits Earth, and the ISS is too big to leave out there, so NASA will organize a deliberate crash in a remote area of the Pacific dubbed “spacecraft cemetery.” Decommissioned satellites and space crafts have been “buried” in this cemetery. 

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No humans will be aboard the ISS and no one will be within miles of the crash when it happens. The cemetery is called Point Nemo, and is 1,670 miles away from the next populated island. Nemo is Latin for “no one,” as no one is even near this empty expanse of ocean. Come 2031, it will become the resting place of the International Space Station. 

Godspeed to the ISS.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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