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NASA to Allow Private Tourists on International Space Station

The latest announcement by NASA seems to be part of a larger plan to commercialize select space ventures.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor before liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center on August 8, 2007. (Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr)
The Space Shuttle Endeavor before liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center on August 8, 2007. (Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr)

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Friday that it will allow private citizens to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2020. The decision is part of a larger plan to open up certain parts of the station for commercial and business activity, according to a press release issued by the space agency.

Although NASA has been historically dismissive of commercial ventures as a part of its space missions, the latest development seems to indicate that the organization is following the plans of U.S. President Donald Trump, who proposed last year an end to federal financing for the ISS and its privatization within the next five years.

NASA would not be the first space agency to allow tourists to travel to space. Russia has pioneered the practice. In April 2001, the Russian Federation flew multi-millionaire U.S.-based businessman Dennis Tito to its side of the ISS, which it operates jointly with the United States. Tito spent more than a week there before touching down back on earth. To date, seven people have followed Tito to space under the space tourism project of the Russian government.

How Much Will It Cost To Go To The International Space Station?

American businessman Tito paid $20 million for his trip to space almost two decades ago, but costs today could be significantly higher. NASA on Friday said that the cost of accommodating one passenger on the ISS to spend one night there would be around $35,000. This would include the use of space station beds for sleeping, and the use of amenities like air, water, and the internet, among other facilities.

However, this is only the money NASA is likely to charge for the trip. The actual cost will be significantly higher because NASA has outsourced the journey to the ISS to private companies, which will levy their own fees from the customers wishing to go to the station. This fee will probably be in millions of dollars. The BBC reports that it could be close to $60 million.

Two private firms—the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX and aerospace manufacturer Boeing—are the companies that will likely be flying private tourists to the moon aboard their space capsules and launch vehicles, according to a report in The New York Times. NASA also asserted in its announcement on Friday that private entities would be responsible for determining crew composition and ensuring that individuals meet the medical and training requirements for spaceflight.

What Does NASA Hope to Achieve With This Plan?

The NASA directive issued last week makes it clear that the agency wants to use this announcement as a platform to eventually allow private businesses to buy time and space on the ISS for the production, marketing and testing of their products. This would allow new sources of revenue for the agency and strengthen its international prestige.

The International Space Station is also a drain on the existing accounts of the agency, costing in upwards of $3-4 billion per year to service and maintain in orbit around the earth. The eventual privatization of this station, which is the stated goal of the U.S. government, would allow the space agency to concentrate on other projects like going back to the moon or landing humans on the planet Mars.

Usman Kabir covers science, space, and technology for Globely News. As a kid, he would make models of the solar system and take part in water rocket competitions. His childhood obsession has led him to a degree in Space Science. Usman likes to spend his free time watching reruns of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld."

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