“It’s probably not too far a leap to say that the initial point of the hearing was to draw a contrast of SLS vs. ISS and the futures of each respective program,” says Phil Larson, a former Obama space advisor and SpaceX employee who now works at the University of Colorado. “And that’s why I think you saw the [witness list] at first not include any commercial spaceflight companies.”

After some pointed tweets, Eric Stallmer, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, was added to the panel to make the case for an extension. His argument was that broader use of public-private partnerships at ISS could generate more revenue to offset operational costs. But he also made clear that supporting the operating costs of ISS after 2024 was not a task private industry is able to take on.

“The commercial sector is moving in the right direction [but] to fully privatize the station it would be difficult, you would need that expertise that NASA offers,” Stallmer said. “Fifty-fifty would be a great starting off point.”

That model may provide an opportunity for a third way between choosing deep space or low-Earth orbit. Another reason to delay the closure of the ISS might be increasing concern over other countries’ space ambitions, expressed by Texas representative Brian Babin as a fear of “turning over human presence in low-Earth orbit to China.”

Some excuse to earn or reallocate more funding may be necessary for the success of either program, as many lawmakers would rather have their cake and eat it too—the exact situation that has left both programs behind schedule.

“We have the commercial companies going to and from the International Space Station and we have NASA going out and exploring the heavens,” Florida senator Bill Nelson said after Trump signed the NASA spending bill. “And we’re going to Mars.”

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