NASA Opens Doors of Space Station to Private Travelers

This March 25, 2009 photo provided by NASA shows the International Space Station seen from the Space Shuttle Discovery during separation. In the background is Earth’s atmosphere. On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, NASA announced that a major power shortage at the station has delayed a SpaceX supply run later in the week. (NASA via AP)

(CN) — Looking to plan a trip where you can really get away from it all? The International Space Station may have a room for you. NASA announced Friday that it will open the orbiting outpost up to private astronauts as soon as 2020.

Compared to the cost of the roundtrip ticket — estimated at $58 million — accommodations at the station will run travelers around $35,000 per night. That includes water, air and other necessities, and guests are only to stay a maximum 30 days.

To start, NASA says it can accommodate “two short-duration private astronaut missions per year.” These private astronauts will use a U.S. spacecraft developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and be subject to the same medical standards and training and certification procedures as paid crew members.

NASA is billing the the travel as part of a long-term plan to build a “robust low-Earth orbit economy.” Developing a commercial use and pricing policy for the ISS and flying out private astronauts are the beginning phases of the project. Later, NASA intends to add on in-space orbit destinations as well as manufacturing and regenerative medicine demonstrations for private space patrons.

“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,” NASA said in a statement Friday. “The agency’s ultimate goal in low-Earth orbit is to partner with industry to achieve a strong ecosystem in which NASA is one of many customers purchasing services and capabilities at [a] lower cost.”

While NASA is not yet selling space vacations directly to private citizens, it will be allowing private companies to arrange such trips.

Henry Hertzfeld, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, noted in a phone interview that the announcement marks a new chapter for a longtime partnership.

“Companies have always been involved in space, and what they’re trying to encourage are new ways for companies to develop new products and services in space, and encourage people to travel to space if there are safe and effective ways for people to travel,” Hertzfeld said.

Before today, private companies typically built the components for space travel under a U.S. government contract, following government orders.

“Now the government is saying, ‘okay, if you want to invest, we will help you, and we will provide some support and services, and we’ll buy your services instead of paying for all the [research and development] and all the production costs,’” he said. “It’s trying to begin a transaction where the government doesn’t have to do it all itself.”

The New York Times reported that Bigelow Aerospace, a space technology startup based in Las Vegas, Nevada, has reserved four launches and is planning to use the rocket company SpaceX, run by Elon Musk. The Times also reports that private space station manufacturer Axiom Space of Houston is hoping to fly tourists to space by next year.

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