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NASA extends space station life to 2024

WASHINGTON -- The US$100 billion International Space Station will be extended by four years, or until at least 2024, allowing for more global research and scientific collaboration, NASA said Wednesday.

The orbiting outpost, the largest space lab ever built, was launched to fanfare in 1998 and had been expected to remain in operation until 2020.

“What a tremendous gift the administration has given us to go look at extending this space station,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Science on the station ranges from studying drug-resistant bacteria, to probing the origins of the universe, to examining how people may one day venture deeper into space, perhaps to Mars, he said.

“We want to push out beyond low-Earth orbit. We are going to have to use this small foothold called the International Space Station to go do that. This is our only opportunity.”

The station has more living space than a six-bedroom house and comes complete with Internet access, a gym, two bathrooms and a 360-degree bay window offering spectacular views of Earth.

Partnering agencies are NASA, the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The entire structure of the ISS is made up of various working and sleeping modules, and extends the length of a football field (357 feet, 109 meters), making it four times bigger than the Russian space station Mir and about five times as large as the U.S. Skylab.

Although it is near-weightless in space, the space station has a mass of 420,000 kilograms.

It is maintained by a rotating crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts who have hailed from 14 countries, NASA said.

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