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International Space Station to fall into ocean in 2020

International Space Station to fall into ocean in 2020

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Russia and its partners plan to let the International Space Station fall into the ocean when it reaches the end of its lifecycle in 2020, according to a new report.

Russia and its partners plan to let the International Space Station fall into the ocean when it reaches the end of its lifecycle in 2020, according to a new report.

Agence France-Presse reports that the Russian space agency's reason is simple: left alone, the ISS poses great risk as an enormous bundle of space junk.

"After it completes its existence, we will be forced to sink the ISS. It cannot be left in orbit, it's too complex, too heavy an object, it can leave behind lots of rubbish," deputy head of Roskosmos space agency Vitaly Davydov reportedly said.

The ISS, home to scientific experiments since its launch in 1998, orbits 220 miles above Earth's surface and hosts researchers hailing from Russia, the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada.

It's also had its own scary brushes with space junk. Just last month, a piece of debris came so close to the station that the six-member crew prepared to use their rescue craft.

The ISS was originally planned to operate through 2013 but its service was officially extended last year through 2020. Whenever its final plunge arrives, the ISS will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, Russia's Mir, which was sunk into the Pacific Ocean in 2001.

Will the ISS's eventual replacement remain close to home, or operate in deeper space? It's unclear at this point, especially with the uncertainty following NASA's final manned shuttle mission this month.

Whatever happens, it's clear that astronauts don't want to worry about mankind's previous experiments in space exploration threatening future missions -- or activity here on Earth.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure