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NASA wants to commercialize the International Space Station, and make heaps of cash doing it

Published Jun 10th, 2019 10:05PM EDT
nasa commercial crew
Image: NASA

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NASA has big plans for its immediate future, including missions to Mars and of course the Moon 2024 effort that was completely unaccounted for in the most recent federal budget. When it comes to science, funding can be hard to come by, and many of NASA’s projects are pricey.

So, in the hopes of generating additional revenue that it can then use for its own scientific research efforts, NASA just announced a new effort to embrace commercial interests and open up the International Space Station to private business. New opportunities for commercial visits to the ISS are expected to come swiftly, with pricing already being hashed out.

At present, NASA doesn’t have the cash it needs to make it to the Moon in 2024. The agency was recently given a mandate from the current administration to return humans to the lunar surface within five years, and despite how shortsighted that request was, NASA has been doing its best to generate support for the cause. Lawmakers have yet to allocate the additional funds NASA requested to make the mission a reality, and it’s unclear when (or if) that might occur.

So, with its wallet lighter than ever, NASA will now sell access to the ISS, an orbiting laboratory where companies can conduct their own research without needing NASA astronauts to do it for them.

Here’s NASA’s own description of its decision to commercialize the space station:

This effort is intended to broaden the scope of commercial activity on the space station beyond the ISS National Lab mandate, which is limited to research and development. A new NASA directive will enable commercial manufacturing and production and allow both NASA and private astronauts to conduct new commercial activities aboard the orbiting laboratory. The directive also sets prices for industry use of U.S. government resources on the space station for commercial and marketing activities.

NASA says it’s limiting its own “allocation of crew resources and cargo capability” in order to make room for private companies. This includes “90 hours of crew time and 175 kg of cargo launch capability” that it will now sell to whoever is willing to pay.

At present, NASA envisions at least two “short-duration private astronaut missions” to the ISS each year. Everything about the missions will be privately funded and will follow NASA’s guidelines for its Commercial Crew Program.

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