In 1998, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its international partners--Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia--began on-orbit assembly of the International Space Station, envisioned as a permanently orbiting laboratory for conducting scientific research under nearly weightless conditions. Since its inception, the program has experienced numerous problems, resulting in significant cost growth and assembly schedule slippages. Following the loss of Columbia in February 2003, NASA grounded the U.S. shuttle fleet, putting the immediate future of the space station in doubt, as the fleet, with its payload capacity, has been key to the station's development. If recent discoveries about the cause of the Columbia's disintegration require that the remaining shuttles be redesigned or modified, delays in the fleet's return to flight could be lengthy. In light of these uncertainties, concerns about the space station's cost and progress have grown. This report highlights the current status of the program in terms of on-orbit assembly and research; the cost implications for the program with the grounding of the shuttle fleet; and identifying significant program management challenges, especially as they relate to reaching agreements with the international partners.
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