WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 -- (Kyodo) _ The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Wednesday it has decided to extend the U.S.-led project of operating the International Space Station at least until 2024 as a base for possible human exploration of Mars.
The countries involved in the ISS operation, including Japan and Russia, earlier agreed to continue with the project until 2020. NASA said the White House has given the green light to funding for the four-year extension.
A NASA official said the ISS could operate at least until 2028 and the extended use of the ISS will help develop spacecraft travelling to Mars and advance research on health of astronauts, climate change and space physics.
NASA and the Japanese and Russian space agencies have sent astronauts to the ISS and Koichi Wakata will become the first Japanese to serve as captain of the ISS crew from March.
The other participants in the ISS project are Canada and European countries such as Britain, France and Germany.
President Barack Obama's administration has been cutting the cost of transporting astronauts and materials by entrusting private companies with the mission after the Space Shuttle was decommissioned in 2011.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., widely called Space X, and Orbital Sciences Corp. have already begun transporting materials to the ISS. NASA is working on entrusting the private sector with the task of sending humans to the ISS in 2017.