NASA will allow tourist aboard the International Space Station

Katie Ramirez
June 8, 2019

With or without NASA, the 20-year-old station is approaching the end of its lifetime.

Up until now, NASA had not allowed ISS to be used for commercial purposes. And it urges work to "stimulate sustainable demand" for commercial R&D in a variety of fields ranging from in-space manufacturing to biomedicine.

NASA envisions a future where commercial interests have populated low-Earth orbit and the agency becomes a customer of those businesses in order to save on costs. Nasa said it believes it can accommodate up to two privately-funded, short duration missions a year with, essentially, space tourists. "This is a shift for NASA that will be beneficial for the American economy and for the American citizens".

The move is part of Nasa's effort to put the first woman and another man on the moon by 2024.

As record amounts of outside investment pour into the USA space industry, companies like SpaceX are making the promise of cheaper commercial travel to the so-called "final frontier" more attainable. The missions may be up to 30 days and must require a microgravity environment, have some connection to a NASA mission or help to build an ongoing low-Earth orbit economy.

Private astronauts may return to the ISS with NASA's help. The agency will even consider letting NASA astronauts participate in commercial marketing, at least in support roles "behind the camera".

As of March 2019, 236 people in total had visited the station. And those prices do not include transportation to and from the station.

These travellers would be ferried to the orbiter exclusively by the two companies now developing transport vehicles for Nasa: SpaceX, with its Crew Dragon capsule, and Boeing, which is building one called Starliner. How much Boeing and SpaceX might charge private-sector astronauts is not yet known.

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But the tourists will also pay Nasa for their stay in space, for food, water and use of the life support system on the orbiter. The ISS costs Nasa roughly $3bn to $4bn a year to operate, according to the Verge.

The trips are likely to cost each private astronaut tens of thousands of dollars. DeWit says companies are already securing seats with SpaceX and Boeing for a booked private flight to the ISS. But when they get to station, there will be a cost.

"But it won't come with any Hilton or Marriott points", DeWit said.

And not just anyone can book a flight.

During Friday's press conference, NASA said it would also dedicate 5 percent of its resources to host the activities of private companies, including the research into and testing of new products.

That is the average rate the companies will bill Nasa for taking the space adventurers up to the ISS. The station is expected to continue operations until 2030.

Gatens detailed a five part plan for encouraging commercial activities and expanding the private marketplace in low-Earth orbit.

"But any of those dates starts with this right now, which is inviting our commercial partners to come aboard", DeWit said.

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