The International Space Station (ISS) has made significant contributions in the field of science. The orbiting laboratory also provided scientists with an opportunity to make preparations for the planned manned mission to planet Mars, but NASA now wants to turn it over to a private entity.

The U.S. space agency has signalled an intention to offload the space station a few years from now with a statement made by NASA's Bill Hill. During a press conference, Hill noted that NASA is looking to hand over the ISS to a private company in the next decade.

Hill said during a panel discussion on plans for Mars mission that some of NASA's long term plans to reach the Red Planet is to work with private spaceflight companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Given declining governmental commitments and the rise of private space industry, commercial partners could help maintain the ISS.

Hill said that the U.S. agency is trying to come up with economic development in the low-earth orbit.

"Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit."

The ISS was launched in 1998 and remains operational up to this day. Boeing, its primary contractor, is looking at the feasibility to operate the space station nearly twice the length of time it was originally designed for.

It is not clear though how the arrangement will be like if a private company would take over the station and if commercial space companies are even interested. As NASA focuses on getting humans to planet Mars, the fate of the habitable artificial satellite may likely depend on the role it plays in interplanetary missions the space agency plans to undertake in the future.

With its microgravity environment, the ISS provides scientists with the opportunity to conduct studies and experiments that could help up the chances of a successful manned Mars mission.

Studies on how an astronaut's body responds in microgravity, for instance, offer hints on what could possibly happen to astronauts during the long space flight from planet Earth to Mars or other extraterrestrial worlds.

Astronauts stationed at the ISS also successfully attempted to plant and harvest Zinnia flowers that could pave way for the development of more sustainable food production systems that can be used when people go for long-duration space explorations.

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