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Space Station May Stay in Orbit 5 More Years

The U.S. and major foreign partners on the International Space Station have agreed in principle to keep it operating through 2020, at least five years beyond the current deadline, according to government and industry officials.

There had been looming questions about the future of the space station — which took nearly two decades and more than $100 billion to design and build — because until now, the major partners hadn't committed to keeping it going past 2015.

An extension could give new momentum to the scientific research conducted there, which initially was delayed by false starts and problems finishing assembly of the station.

But prolonging the facility's life, particularly in the midst of the current global economic turmoil, could also force some tough questions within the U.S. space program.

Washington could have to spend $10 billion or more between 2015 and 2020 to continue using the space station — potentially siphoning dollars from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's annual budget of more than $18 billion, primarily from projects intended to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020.

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