NASA said on 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 US$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 travellers 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 US$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 US$35,000 per night per astronaut, said DeWit.
That does not include internet, which will cost US$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 US$20 million for the trip.
Others followed in his footsteps, the last being Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.