As the TV series Star Trek famous put it, space is “the final frontier.” If NASA has its way, low-Earth orbit will soon become the new frontier in space tourism.
The U.S. space agency recently announced that it will be offering private individuals the opportunity to stay at the International Space Station for 30 days. A jaunt to the ISS would cost $50 million, or nearly $1.7 million a night.
NASA is using the space tourist initiative to invite private companies to engage in mutually beneficial, profitable, and science-advancing endeavors. NASA’s future solvency problems may be solved through privatization instead of solely government funding.
NASA’s Chief Financial Advisor Jeff DeWit kicked off the space tourism initiative at NASDAQ headquarters in New York City.
“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,” DeWit said.
NASA will allow two citizen astronauts, most likely billionaires or individuals with corporate backing, to visit the ISS in the same year. The first space tourist launch is tentatively planned to occur in 2020.
Vacation or boot camp?
Space tourists shouldn’t expect five-star treatment, whatever the price tag.
All potential space tourists will have to train for the experience like any other NASA astronaut. They will also have to pass an exhaustive screening and qualification process.
Any space tourist candidate will have to possess an academic degree. Acceptable majors include biological science, computer science, engineering, mathematics, or physical science.
Applicants must have at least three years of professional employment experience after college or about 1,000 hours of flying time as a jet aircraft pilot.
About two years of astronaut training will be involved. During that time, applicants will need to learn elementary Russian since use of some equipment, especially the Soyuz space vehicle, demands it.
The space tourist program is highly competitive. Since 2016, about 18,600 people have applied to become space tourists. Of that number, only 120 made it to the interview portion. Then, only five were accepted.
NASA is using this initiative as a way to self-finance future missions to the moon and Mars via privatization.
It is not a new idea. About 50 private companies are already paying to put experiments on the ISS