Many of us have witnessed the passing overhead of the International Space Station (ISS), seen as a small point of light silently gliding over Wales in the night sky. 

For us on Earth, we may catch a few passes of an evening as the station orbits the Earth once every 92 minutes at a speed of 17,500 mph, but for the astronauts onboard the ISS, 16 sunrises and sunsets respectively are witnessed by the crew each day. 

However, NASA is about to call time on the ISS, retiring the station from service in 2031.

Details released at the start of February 2022 layout the final decade for the remaining usage of the station, before it goes to its grave in the so-called "spacecraft cemetery" crashing into an uninhabited area of the South Pacific Ocean near to Point Nemo, situated between New Zealand at the coast of Chile. 

The National Wales: Wales as seen from the International Space Station. Source: NASAWales as seen from the International Space Station. Source: NASA

Point Nemo has the official tag of "the oceanic pole of inaccessibility" for being surrounded by 1,000 miles of ocean in every direction.  Interestingly, the astronauts onboard the ISS are around 258 miles from the Earth at any given point. 

Since the inhabited area closet to Nemo is more than 1,000 distant, then the astronauts are far closer even in space to Point Nemo than humankind living on land.

In the words of Isaac Newton (or at least with reference to Newton's third law although that didn't specifically relate to gravity), what goes up, must come down, with a fiery farewell meeting the ISS in 2031. 

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Until then, under a commitment from the Biden administration, the ISS will operate until 2030, extending the life of the space station from 2024 to the end of the decade. 

In an updated transition report delivered to Congress, NASA detailed the endgame for the ISS, which has been operating since 2000. According to Robyn Gatens, Director of the ISS at NASA Headquarters, "The ISS is entering its third and most productive decade as a groundbreaking scientific platform in microgravity"

As of April 2021 last year, 244 individuals from 19 countries had visited the ISS, it will be the end of an era for the largest humankind-made structure to have ever visited space.

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