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NASA will hand over the ISS to a private company in about a decade

A very lucky company may be able to get its hands on one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the universe — a property that’s quite literally out of this world.

During a Thursday press conference, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill Hill suggested that the space agency hopes to hand over the keys of the International Space Station to a commercial owner, Digital Trends can confirm. The move is expected to take place within the next decade, with the “mid-2020s” serving as a goal.

“NASA’s trying to develop economic development in low-earth orbit,” said Hill, speaking as part of a NASA panel discussing the upcoming “Journey to Mars” mission. “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.”

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Another NASA employee told Digital Trends that the transfer of the ISS to commercial companies is already well underway, and the influx in commercial launches to the ISS ought to reduce NASA’s overall involvement in this particular project.

The decision isn’t particularly surprising as the American government has only set aside funds for the ISS to remain in orbit through 2024 — at least, on the federal government’s dime. President Barack Obama has already extended ISS operations: The deorbiting date was initially set for 2016. The extra time was deemed necessary for NASA to better prepare for its next big goal, a trip to the Red Planet.

At the press conference, NASA didn’t mention any possible buyers, though both Boeing and SpaceX seem like likely contenders. After all, both companies are slated to make trips of their own to the ISS, serving as shuttles for astronauts looking to go between Earth and their outer space home. SpaceX also has grand plans of its own to make its way to Mars.