By 2031, the ISS will be crashed into Point Nemo, which is a specific location in the Pacific Ocean that’s home to so much space debris it’s been christened the “space cemetery.” In doing so, the ISS will have completed three decades of service toward space exploration and scientific advancement since its launch on November 20, 1998. Its retirement will mean the death of a pillar of extraterrestrial research — but also the birth of a new era of exploration for a new generation, taken to new heights and extremes.
The majority of those in my generation were born after the launch of the International Space Station, meaning that we’ve never known a world without it. While it’s incorrect to say that I’ve “grown-up” alongside the ISS (since it was born 10 years before I), it’s true that I have not lived a day of my life in which it has not been circling the Earth.
This ultimately means that the ISS has had a large impact on my childhood and development into an (albeit young) adult, whether I was aware of it or not.
I think every kid has a dream to go to space or be an astronaut in some capacity at some point in their childhoods. I am certainly not exempt from this, and I don’t think many others of my generation are either. However, while children of the 1960s and ’70s may have dreamed of moonwalks and Apollo missions, I know that I was drawn toward a stay on the ISS since that was the most modern, cutting-edge technology at the time.
I draw these parallels to my generation because 2031 is just around the right date when the majority of us will be entering the workforce, which would typically be the time that childhood goals would be discarded in exchange for a focused career.
The retirement of the ISS is almost a physical representation of that, truly demonstrating the grounded realities of life. As for me, I’ll be 24 — which isn’t a likely age to be an astronaut. It’s ironic and extremely disappointing to think that my largest childhood goal was never truly attainable and will always remain a dream, no matter how hard I try.
However — I’m consoled from this depressing reality by the fact that I know space exploration will not end. While I might not be able to go up into the ISS one day as my seven-year-old self dreamed of, its retirement leaves a gaping hole (both figuratively and physically) that must be filled.
In fact, perhaps keeping the 30-year-old ISS will only hold back the bounds of humanity. Three decades is indisputably a long time, and given the amount that technology has advanced in that period, it’s very possible that the outdated nature of the current space station has been a thorn in the side of NASA. With the rapid development of private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX, this announcement may signify the beginning of a new era of space technologies.
I wait excitedly for the day it comes.