NASA Opens Space Station to Tourists and Businesses

The U.S. government has formally laid out the welcome mat for space tourists, as part of a broader effort to jump-start commercial initiatives on the international space station, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In an announcement Friday, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration set out rules for a few affluent adventurers, and potentially even marketers, camera crews and people engaged in various moneymaking activities, to spend up to a month living on board the orbiting laboratory.

So far, only a handful of private visitors have made their way to the space station, all using Russian spacecraft, the Journal noted.

The concept of offering more such trips has been discussed for years, with various companies laying out potential arrangements, safety issues and other logistics with NASA officials and representatives of some of the other countries that are partners on the space station.

The trips, to be arranged by private companies, will require reimbursing NASA about $35,000 a day for each visitor, covering life support, food, medical supplies and other items. But getting there and back will take many millions of additional dollars.

Both Boeing and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, designed the seating capacity of their commercial capsules, primarily intended to transport astronauts, with the idea of potentially taking a limited number of private travelers on selected trips. Those U.S. spacecraft, though, are still undergoing testing and aren’t expected to be ready for routine transportation until next year at the earliest.

The overall cost of the anticipated tourists flights isn’t clear, since it currently costs NASA more than $40 million per astronaut to blast crews to the station using Russian hardware. In previous years, a tiny group of well-heeled adventurers have paid for Russian rockets and capsules to carry them to the space station. But Moscow hasn’t offered such rides to nonastronauts recently.

The eventual price of a space station visit, even for only a few days, is bound to be significantly more than the roughly $250,000 that companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic plan to charge for brief, suborbital rides to experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

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