Though Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has ferried seven tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) since 2001, America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been opposed to the idea of commercializing the space lab. That changed on June 7, 2019, when the US space agency announced it will soon allow private-sector "astronauts" to spend up to 30 consecutive days aboard the space lab.
The privilege, which will be extended to only two individuals a year, does not come cheap. To get to the ISS, the budding astronauts will have to book a seat aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon or Boeing's Starliner capsule, both of which are expected to be ready to transport passengers to the ISS by 2020. Though the price of the round-trip journey has not been finalized, it is expected to cost about $58 million per person. Once at the ISS, each visitor will have to fork out an additional $35,000 per night for room and board.
Having sufficient funds is just the first hurdle to being selected for this unique opportunity to spend time aboard the ISS. Individuals, or the companies sponsoring them, will also be required to submit an application outlining their mission and the orbital resources required. To be considered, the idea will have to either help further the objectives of a NASA mission, have a need for zero-gravity conditions, or assist in creating a commercial market in space. Most importantly, all aspiring astronauts will have to pass NASA's rigorous health checks and training procedures.
The US space agency finally succumbed to the commercialization of the ISS for two reasons. The revenues generated will help subsidize the cost of operating the space station and help free up resources for NASA's ambitious plan to land the first woman on the moon by 2024. Additionally, the officials believe allowing private citizens to stay on the lab will enable further testing to make space tourism safe for future passengers. "Market studies identified private astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit as a key element to demonstrate demand and reduce the risk for future commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit," NASA explained.
The US agency also believes space tourism will increase substantially once commercial companies launch orbiting stations to accommodate visitors or astronauts using it as a stopping point on their way to Mars. "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."
However, don't start packing your bags yet. For though the increase in orbiting "hotels" may help reduce the cost of space travel substantially from current levels, it will probably still be out of reach for most of the world's population.
Resources: endgadget.com, geekwire.com, newatlas.com