If your long-lived dream has been to experience a microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, well, you’re in luck. On Friday, NASA announced a new initiative to bring commercial business and private astronauts to low-Earth orbit – and that means, you could someday beam up to the stars, you know if you’re a well-connected American.
“For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked aboard the International Space Station, conducting thousands of experiments in areas such as human research, biology, and physical science, as well as advanced technology development,” wrote NASA. “New opportunities are needed to move beyond research and development, and the station will play an essential role in enabling those opportunities for new commercial markets needed to build a sustainable ecosystem in low-Earth orbit.”
Though it’s been in the works since 2012, the first privately funded commercial astronaut mission is now set to launch next year. Private astronauts can stay aboard the ISS for up to 30 days and will perform duties that are approved by NASA, including regenerative medicine, in-space manufacturing, bioengineering, and other work that fits within its mission. Just two short-duration missions will be launched every year, and it will be the commercial sponsor’s duty to determine crew requirements and ensure their astronauts independently meet NASA standards. The best part? You could someday join them.
“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,” wrote the space agency. “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.”
NASA also says it has plans to outfit one space station with a port and utilities so that businesses can attach their spacecraft in future missions. Altogether, the agency says their new directive will offer both the supply and demand side for a “new economy” where government resources will help foster commercial activities that allow the private sector to identify new market opportunities beyond our atmosphere. The decision expands the ISS mission past just research and opens it up for private entrepreneurship. Currently, more than 50 companies have been researching opportunities that will allow for commercial manufacturing and production in space and provide private astronauts with commercial activities aboard the orbiting lab.
To qualify, commercial and marketing activities must either have a connection to NASA’s mission, support development of sustainable low-Earth orbit economy, or need microgravity equipment for their work. Initially, NASA will provide 5 percent of its crew resources and cargo capacity for the directive.
The agency is seeking responses from the private sector until July 3.