NASA has announced it will open the International Space Station (ISS) for commercial business, permitting anyone who pays an estimated $50 million for a round trip ticket plus $35,000 per night, to stay in space, reported USA Today.
"We are announcing the ability for private astronauts to visit the space station on U.S. vehicles and for companies to engage in commercial profit-making activities," said Jeff DeWit, NASA's chief financial advisor, at a press conference last Friday at NASDAQ headquarters in New York.
Since the Space Transportation System (STS) ended in 2011, NASA has partnered with Boeing and SpaceX to transport cargo to ISS. Private citizens who want to go to space will have to make arrangements with those companies to get into Low Earth orbit (LEO).
"If a private astronaut is on station, they will have to pay us while they're there for the life support, the food, the water, things of that nature," DeWit added.
Private astronauts will need to meet the same physical requirements as any other astronaut. NASA will allow two private astronauts per year on the ISS with an expected price tag of $50 million per trip, and the first launch could be in the next several years.
Private astronauts must meet the following qualifications:
- Pass an exhaustive physical exam
- 20/20 distance and near vision in each eye (corrective lenses or corrective surgery permitted)
- Bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics
- Minimum of three years of related professional experience obtained after degree OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft
- Since about 2016, NASA has received more than 18,000 applications since 2016, only 120 made it to the interview stage, and just five were accepted into the program.
Private astronauts must complete two years of basic training, study Russian, understand how to operate the equipment on the ISS, perform spacewalks and land a Soyuz rocket if a mishap occurred during launch.
"We are so excited to be part of NASA as our home and laboratory in space transitions to become accessible to commercial and marketing opportunity as well as to private astronauts," said astronaut Christina Koch, who currently lives aboard the ISS, in a NASA video announcement. "Enabling a vibrant economy in low-earth orbit has always been a driving element on the space station program and will make space more accessible to all Americans."
It was right after the Dot Com bust when California businessman Dennis Tito became the first paying visitor of the ISS.
Bill Gerstenmaier, a NASA's associate administrator, said the ISS would become too costly for the government to maintain into the 2020s, indicates opening up the space station to tourism could generate enough revenue to maintain the craft in LEO.
Tourism revenue from ISS could also support the agency in its mission on returning to the moon by the mid-2020s.