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International Space Station may be vacated

by Kelly MacNeil on September 1, 2011

For more than a decade astronauts have called the International Space Station (ISS) home, but that may soon come to an end. Time magazine reports that in the wake of the crash of an unmanned Russian rocket, the $100-billion structure may be vacated.

The potential emptying of the ISS comes soon after NASA ended its decades-long space shuttle program. Instead, American astronauts who are heading up to the ISS will now have to get there aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. However, those rockets are currently being grounded because scientists are trying to determine what caused one of them to crash in a barren section of Siberia on August 24.

Though there are plenty of supplies for the six astronauts (three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese) currently aboard the ISS, the prospect of it becoming completely vacated in the near future has some NASA critics wringing their hands. The ISS currently has two rockets attached to it ready to go back to earth, with one departing in September and the other in December.

"We really won't be abandoning the station, though that's how some people have described it," Kirk Shireman, ISS deputy program manager, told the publication. "The people on the ground will be watching and maintaining it just as they do now."

Despite Shireman's assertions, some are still criticizing NASA's poor planning. The organization had known since at least 2004 that it would be discontinuing the shuttle program, leaving many to question why they would solely rely on Russian rockets for transportation. In the future, space travel may be privatized and the company SpaceX is leading the way and plans to send a resupply mission to the ISS later this year.

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