NASA is intending to purchase a seat on a private astronaut flight within the next five years, the agency said in a statement earlier this week.
This would be another move in efforts to open up the International Space Station to astronauts who are outside the Governmental sphere – a far cry from the current situation.
Most astronauts in space from different nations are Government employees. Just a handful of ‘space tourists’ have visited the orbiting complex, such as Dennis Tito and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, according to Forbes.
Such ‘tourists’ however pay large sums of funds to Russian officials and were not employed by any company. Future private sector astronauts may be employees of a firm, sent to the International Space Station for 15 to 30 days for a specific set of experiments or other work that can only be carried out from space.
Forbes reports that NASA recognises its role as a government reference customer to stimulate the space economy. The purchase of so many ISS cargo flights from SpaceX and Northrop Grumman over the years is recognised as one reason for this. Further backing up this point, Forbes cites NASA’s role to stimulate the space economy as being another reason why the space agency gave Government contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to fly Government astronauts on private spacecraft in the near-to-medium future.
The introduction of private astronaut flights, however, is an entirely different matter. NASA reportedly envisions opening up the International Space Station to a series of companies that would supply their own astronauts, essentially paying a rental fee to use NASA space facilities for their own work. Additionally, NASA reportedly plans to put a Government astronaut on at least one of these flights to provide some seed money, which should assist efforts to bring more private astronauts into space.