NASA welcomes civilian tourists to ISS
Image: Quentin Sokolow / The Burn-In

Plenty of people dream about going into space. However, less than 1 percent actually get to do it. Now, NASA is ready to change all that and make dreams come true…for a hefty price. A recent announcement opens the door for non-astronauts to orbit the planet on a pleasure trip.

Civilian millionaires won’t be the only ones taking advantage of this new offer, however. NASA has also opened the ISS to private companies for non-research, profit hunting ventures. Furthermore, the move has raised some public scrutiny regarding the future of the space station and its budget.

Big Spenders Only

Not surprisingly, taking an outer space vacation won’t be cheap. NASA plans to charge $35,000 per night on board the ISS for the use of its facilities, including air, water, beds, and food. This cost does not include transportation to and from the station. While the price tag puts a trip to space out of the question for many people, the opportunity does pave the way for future extraterrestrial travel at a lower cost.

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Those who can afford the trip will fly on a rocket from whichever private spaceflight company they prefer. Las Vegas-based Bigelow Space Operations has already reserved four flights (with four seats each) aboard rockets from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Other companies such as Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and lesser discussed Virgin Galactic will likely join the game as well.

Currently, none of the above organizations have announced how much a ticket to the ISS will cost. The fare will likely be far more expensive than the price of actually staying at the station. How much the companies charge space travelers may also vary per ticket based on who or what is on board the rockets.

Massive Civilian Opportunity

Interestingly, civilian trips to the ISS are not a new event. In the early 2000s, seven people made the Russian-sponsored journey. However, at that time, NASA was not interested in allowing similar trips for American civilians. So, the government agency’s somewhat sudden change of heart has led many to wonder what prompted the decision.

One possible factor may be the Trump administration’s 2017 proposal to cut government funding to the ISS by 2024. While this hasn’t become official, some believe that NASA’s newfound desire to turn its interstellar lab into a tourist and commercial destination may be related to a lack of financial security.

Interestingly, NASA CFO Jeff DeWitt says, “It’s not going to be a profit-making venture for NASA at all.”

Despite this, charging businesses and individuals for a trip to the space station could help offset some of the $8 million spent daily on ISS operations. At the end of July, NASA will also start accepting proposals for a privately owned and operated module to be added to the station. This will likely be accompanied by a massive check from whichever company receives the administration’s blessing.

Overall, spaceflight is now possible for private citizens who are not official NASA astronauts. While it’s still accessible only to the wealthy, this announcement is the first step towards making an interstellar vacation available to everyone.

Still, it will likely be at least another decade or two before space travel becomes a reality for those not living in a mansion. In the meantime, companies and millionaires will undoubtedly enjoy the opportunity.

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