NASA will let tourists visit the International Space Station starting in 2020
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This photo provided by NASA shows a cargo ship arriving at the International Space Station, Friday, April 19, 2019. Space station astronaut Anne McClain used a robot arm to capture Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus capsule as they soared 258 miles (415 kilometers) above France. The Cygnus and its 7,600-pound (3,450-kilogram) shipment rocketed from Wallops Island, Va., on Wednesday, completing the trip in short order. (NASA via AP)
NASAplans to allow tourists to visit the International Space Station from 2020 – at an estimated cost of more than $50 million (£39 million) per trip.
Until now, the floating space lab has only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.
In a surprise announcement today, NASA confirmed that it would be “opening the International Space Station for commercial business”.
It means that private companies will be able to take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.
As part of its “commercialization” of the ISS, Nasa will be making one space station port and utilities available for a private company to “attach a commercial module to”.
And it hopes that in the long-term, there will be lots of private space stations floating just above Earth.
“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.
“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”
Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.
Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.
And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organize trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55 million (£43.2 million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.
So why is NASA letting tourists travel to the ISS?
The main advantage seems to be keeping costs down, as the ISS is very expensive to run.
But it’s also about continuing to test space travel – to make it safer and cheaper for everyone.
“Market studies identified private astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit as a key element to demonstrate demand and reduce risk for future commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.
The long-term plan is to create space stations near Earth that can be used as stop-off points for deeper trips into space.
NASA hopes to set up several “lunar gateways” starting from 2028 that will float near the Moon, and could be used for crewed missions to Mars.
“The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport, again using commercial and international partners, enables us to get to Mars,” said NASA top boss Jim Bridenstine, speaking last year.
“What we don’t want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done. We want to go to stay.
“And the Gateway, in my view – I’ve been convinced – enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars.”