NASA announced that it will begin allowing tourism to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS will now be open to private individuals and companies across the world. The first recreational space flight to the ISS organised by NASA is expected to take place sometime in 2020.
A round-trip ticket alone is estimated to cost around $58 million. Extra charges for boarding such as food, water, and life support will be around $35,000 a night for trips that are a month long.
NASA CFO Jeff DeWit told ABC News that the accommodations aboard the ISS will not be luxurious and people of any nationality will be allowed on-board the ISS, as long as they fly on an US-operated rocket and make travel arrangements through contracted companies.
“As NASA learns how these new markets respond, the agency will reassess the pricing and amount of available resources approximately every six months and make adjustments as necessary”, said NASA.
Recreational space travel was already available through Russian rockets.
In April 2001, Dennis Tito became the first private individual to visit the space station. He paid $20 million for eight days aboard the ISS, says BBC. Six other people have also paid their way into space via Russian rockets.
“And then looking to my right, out of the window, I could see the blackness of space, I could see Earth, and the curvature of Earth, and the sight of Earth from space was just spectacular”, said Tito to the BBC.
Now, NASA has signed up with SpaceX and Boeing for these space missions. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s Starliner aircraft will be used to transport private astronauts like Tito.
About two people will be allowed to visit per year, on the condition that they pass medical examinations and training programmes.
SpaceX and Blue Moon Lander for recreational space travel
The interest in recreational space travel is getting increasingly cemented in the public’s minds as space research companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are making it a reality.
In May, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the Blue Moon lander designed and developed by Blue Origin, a rocket company he founded. The lander, he said, is the first step towards building human colonies in space and on Mars.
Stating that Earth’s resources were too scarce for the growing population, Bezos remarked, “We get to choose… Do we want stasis and rationing or do we want dynamism and growth? This is an easy choice. We know what we want. We just have to get busy… This is going to take a long time, this is a big vision.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a well-known space research company, is also working to make recreational space travel a reality.
Currently, SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) is be able to ferry 1,50,000 kg. Musk said he wants the BFR to be as safe as any commercial airline and have 40 cabins, adequate storage and an entertainment zone.
The BFR will first be tested as a cargo ship in 2022. The second mission will hopefully be crewed with the objective of setting up a propeller plant on Mars that will produce rocket fuel.
Moving forward, both Bezos and Musk want to make their crewed space travel vehicles reusable.
Why is NASA allowing people to visit the ISS?
An article in The Verge explains that NASA wants to attract more commercial interest to the ISS by allowing private citizens to visit. Over 50 companies are already engaged in research at the ISS.
5% of NASA’s budget will be put towards crew, resources, and cargo dedicated to private space visits.
The ISS will be open to filming crews working on commercials or other cinematic product that requires space as a background. Reportedly, NASA is allowing companies to buy time on the ISS for production and marketing related products. Starting in 2020, these private enterprises can send their own astronautical crew to the ISS.
Previously, NASA only allowed private organisations with an educational objective to make limited use of the ISS, Now, NASA is inviting greater commercialisation to encourage brand popularity and revenue streams.
“Providing expanded opportunities at the International Space Station to manufacture, market and promote commercial products and services will help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses”, said NASA.
Astronaut Koch also said that the ISS is a boon for individuals and organisations interested in zero-gravity research. So, NASA’s pivot to commercialisation is hoping to spur private research and development efforts, as well.
Moreover, the more major a conduit NASA becomes for private citizens looking to go to space, the greater the perception of American superiority when it comes to technology, safety, and innovation.
Astronaut Christina Koch said, “Enabling a vibrant economy in low Earth orbit has always been a driving element of the Space Station programme, and will make space more accessible to all Americans.”
She said that NASA hopes to work with private companies for technology testing and astronaut training to “build a sustainable human presence” in space. She added that commercialising the use of the ISS will help put more humans— especially the first woman— on moon missions.
India’s first crewed mission by ISRO, Chandrayaan 2, will be taking place sometime between July 9 and 16. The crew is expected to land on the moon on September 6.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius