The Trump administration plans to sell the iconic International Space Station into private hands according to a leaked NASA document.
The White House is expected to end direct funding for the orbiting station after 2024, with documents obtained by the Washington Post indicating the laboratory could end up in private hands.
“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be de-orbited at that time – it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the Post quoted the leaked document as saying.
“NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”
It said a White House budget request to be released Monday US time would request US$150 million in 2019, with more in additional years “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS-potentially including elements of the ISS-are operational when they are needed.”
The internal NASA document included few details of exactly how the privatisation of the station would work.
The White House has said it “will request market analysis and business plans from the commercial sector and solicit plans from commercial industry.”
The United States spent nearly $US100 billion to build and operate it the ISS and any sell off would likely face strong opposition.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz last week said he hoped reports of NASA’s decision to end funding of the station “prove as unfounded as Bigfoot”.
Mr Cruz said the decision was the result of “numbskulls” at the Office of Management and Budget.
“As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can to is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” he said.
When asked about the possibility of a public-partnership, he said, “I think all of us are open to reasonable proposals that are cost effective and that are utilising the investments we made in a way that maximise their effectiveness.”
The fate of the ISS could hinge on a NASA feasibility study into whether the life of the iconic station could be extended to 2028 or beyond.
Aerospace company Boeing currently operates the station for NASA, which costs $US3 to $US4 billion each year.
Amid reports last month that NASA may mothball the facility, Boeing space station manager Mark Mulqueen said: “walking away from the International Space Station now would be a mistake, threatening American leadership and hurting the commercial market as well as the scientific community.”