NASA to open International Space Station to tourists from 2020

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This handout illustration obtained May 31, 2019 courtesy of NASA shows planet Earth rimming the Moon's horizon with a commercial lander that will carry NASA-provided science and technology payloads to the lunar surface, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the Moon by 2024. (AFP)
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From right, Jeff Dewit, NASA's Chief Financial Officer; Robyn Gatens, NASA's Deputy Director of the International Space Station; Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission, and Stephanie L. Schierholz Public Affairs Officer/Human Exploration and Operations, NASA, attend a news conference at Nasdaq in New York on Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP)
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NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., May 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
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NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., May 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
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NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., May 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 June 2019

NASA to open International Space Station to tourists from 2020

  • Travelers will pay an estimated $58 million for a round-trip ticket. And accommodations will run about $35,000 per night, for trips of up to 30 days long

NEW YORK: NASA said Friday it will open up the International Space Station to business ventures including space tourism as it seeks to financially disengage from the orbiting research lab.
Price tag? Tens of millions of dollars for a round trip ticket and $35,000 a night.
“NASA is opening the International Space Station to commercial opportunities and marketing these opportunities as we’ve never done before,” NASA chief financial officer Jeff DeWit said in an announcement made at the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York.
There will be up to two short private astronaut missions per year, said Robyn Gatens, deputy director of the ISS.
The missions will be for stays of up to 30 days. As many as a dozen private astronauts could visit the ISS per year, NASA said.
These travelers would be ferried to the orbiter exclusively by the two US companies currently developing transport vehicles for NASA: SpaceX, with its Crew Dragon capsule, and Boeing, which is building one called Starliner.
These companies would choose the clients — who will not have to be US citizens — and bill for the trip to the ISS, which will be the most expensive part of the adventure: around $58 million for a roundtrip ticket.
That is the average rate the companies will bill NASA for taking the space adventurers up to the ISS.
Neither Dragon nor Starliner are ready. Their transport capsules are supposed to be ready in late 2019 but the timetable depends on the results of a series of tests. So the private missions will have to wait until 2020 at the earliest.
The tourists will pay NASA for their use of the station, for food, water and use of the life support system.
That will run about $35,000 per night per astronaut, said DeWit.
That does not include Internet, which will cost $50 per gigabyte.

The space station does not belong to NASA. It was built along with Russia starting in 1998, and other countries participate in the mission and send up astronauts.
But the United States has paid for and controls most of the modules that make it up.
The new space tourists to the ISS will not be the first: US businessman Dennis Tito had that honor in 2001. He paid Russia around $20 million for the trip.
Others followed in his footsteps, the last being Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.
Since 2011, Russian Soyuz rockets have been the only way to get to the space station. And they have transported only space agency astronauts, in addition to Russian cosmonauts.
There are usually three to six crew members on the ISS at any given time. Right now it is home to three Americans, two Russians and a Canadian.
Russia plans to resume tourist flights in late 2021.
The policy change announced Friday includes the opening of parts of the ISS to private sector companies for commercial and marketing activity.
This would include startups developing techiques for building materials in conditions of weightlessness.
Fiber optic cables, for example, are of extraordinary quality when manufactured in microgravity.
The idea is to develop the space economy in the hope of seeing the private sector take over the ISS, which the United States hopes to stop financing in the late 2020s.
“We want to be there as a tenant, not as the landlord,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in April.
The agency wants to free up funds for a return to the moon mission called Artemis in 2024 and for sending the first humans to Mars, perhaps in the 2030s.
But it remains unclear if commercial activity in earth orbit is profitable because it is still so expensive to get up there in the first place.
In the end, NASA appears to have changed its stance in order to meet its huge budget needs.
When Russia announced it was taking Tito to the space station, NASA was at first opposed to such a mission. And it ended up sending the Russians a bill for his stay on the ISS.


At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

Updated 24 January 2020

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

  • A single tree that to bear 40 different types of apple

DAVOS: The World Economic Forum is not all about the fourth industrial revolution or the rise of AI.

You can also find all manner of strange and intriguing products on display from biodegradable plastic made from algae to wallpaper made from recycled corn husks.

One stand titled “How do you design a tree?” is part of a conservation effort where a single tree is designed to bear 40 different types of apple.

Another stand displays colored seaweed on a rack, showing how clothes can be dyed in a sustainable, non-chemically corrosive manner.

Propped along a large wall is Fernando Laposse’s wallpaper made of variations of purple corn husks that are reinforced with recycled cardboard and cork to create wallpaper and furniture. The husks come from corn that needs very little water and can be grown in the desert, which makes it all the more sustainable.

“This initiative helps the local economy as it brings in jobs and a resurgence of crafts and food traditions while also ensuring sustainability,” Laposse said.

Another display shows a machine that extracts pellets from a mixture of algae and starch and is used to create a thread that is the base of 3D printing. These sustainable, biodegradable plastics made from algae are being experimented with in different regions.

With the rise of deep fakes — a branch of synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness — another stand delivers a warning on the looming dangers of unregulated software.

The Davos forum prides itself on its sustainability, and key topics have included climate, mobility, energy and the circular economy. Everything is recyclable, and participants must download an application in order to keep up with the program and any changes — a move to cut down on paper waste.