The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is looking towards other means of gaining capital in their ambitious mission of launching American astronauts back to the Moon and farther by offering trips to the space station to the public.
The ambitious mission, codenamed Artemis, is set to launch in 2025—a little over five years from today—and NASA needs to accomplish its set of checklists before proceeding with the lift-off. However, the mission requires NASA to shell out a significant capital to do so.
Previously, President Donald Trump has allocated a total budget of $1.6 billion to NASA to get the wheels moving on the Artemis mission, but as critics have pointed out, $1.6 billion will be way under budget to carry the entire mission through.
NASA announces that the International Space Station will be open to commercial business. “[NASA] is opening the International Space Station to commercial opportunities and marketing these opportunities as we’ve never done before,” chief financial officer Jeff DeWit said in New York.
The new opportunity would allow privately trained astronauts to access lower space orbit and into the International Space Station for a maximum of 30 days. Moreover, there will be up to two short private astronaut missions per year, said Robyn Gatens, the deputy director of the ISS.
“US industry innovation and ingenuity can accelerate a thriving commercial economy in low-Earth orbit,” NASA writes in a statement.
The new venture for space tourism will come at hefty prices starting at $55 million for a roundtrip ticket for flights from the Earth to the ISS. Moreover, NASA also indicated that hotel prices aboard the ISS will also come at a hefty price of $35,000 per night.
The concept of space tourism is fairly new and still on the verge of making a breakthrough to truly allow public access to space. Supplementarily, NASA opening the ISS for commercial purposes won’t exactly yield a handful of random people to board space rockets just for the sake of site seeing—the NASA space trips would most likely comprise of allowing commercial businesses to develop their own technology and experiments in relation to space activities, which would help further NASA’s own research as well.
In addition, the space agency said in a statement that it is partnering with 11 companies to create 14 commercial facilities to aid in research and development projects. Furthermore, it would help take said research from over 50 companies who have already been conducting commercial research and development on the space station which is currently limited to the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.
Particularly, Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company, announced on Tuesday that its subsidiary Bigelow Space Operations has “paid substantial sums as deposits and reservation fees” to fly four tourists at a time aboard the said missions.
In NASA’s announcement Friday, the commercial space trips would launch as early as 2020 aboard U.S. spacecraft developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. These spacecraft will have crew capsules developed from either Elon Musk’s Space X crew capsule coined Dragon or Boeing’s upcoming crew capsule.
Private companies have been working with NASA to collaborate on developing technology on making space tourism a possibility and ultimately help NASA send the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.
Recently, Space X has successfully tested its human crew capsule, Dragon, under NASA’s supervision but only with a test dummy. An official human test flight aboard Dragon would be foreseeable in 2020. On the other hand, British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has successfully made a quick roundtrip on Earth’s lower orbit with three passengers—a woman named Beth Moses being one of the passengers. These tests would come in handy alongside NASA’s ISS commercial initiative.
On other news, commercial companies are also contributing to NASA’s Artemis mission by providing tech tests such as moon landers.
“Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. ”Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”