New NASA Administrator Wants to Hand Over the International Space Station to Private Companies

Tuesday, 05 June 2018 - 7:01PM
Space
NASA
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 - 7:01PM
New NASA Administrator Wants to Hand Over the International Space Station to Private Companies
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NASA
The future of the International Space Station is very unsteady, but we know what the recently appointed head of NASA is hoping for. It could stay a publicly funded scientific outpost, it could be grounded, or it could be given to private corporations to do what they wish with it.

The new administrator of NASA, Trump appointee Jim Bridenstine, recently spoke to the Washington Post in one of his first interviews since his appointment to declare that he's very interested in that third option - he's already speaking to companies interested in running the ISS, and there may be a buyer before too long. 

This isn't the first time the United States government has brought up a desire to privatize the ISS. The fact that the ISS is internationally owned and operated would complicate these plans, and Bridenstine seems to be expecting "multinational cooperation" if a deal like this actually begins moving forward.



Here's Bridenstine's full comment, via the Post:

Opening quote
"We're in a position now where there are people out there that can do commercial management of the International Space Station. I've talked to many large corporations that are interested in getting involved in that through a consortium, if you will."
Closing quote


He wouldn't name any of these potential buyers so far, which isn't surprising at this early stage, but NASA does have a history with certain aerospace and defense corporations, having worked with Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Lockheed Martin, and others over the years. It wouldn't be too surprising if at least one of those names shows up later on, although Boeing has objected to the idea of commercializing the ISS in the past.

So what would this mean for the International Space Station? If the hypothetical company that takes over has a firm interest in science, then not much - the ISS is still very useful for scientific research, and that's primarily its purpose nowadays, even if the United States government doesn't care for the chunk of NASA's $18 billion budget that the ISS takes up.

If, however, the ISS ends up in the hands of a corporation who has more profit-driven motives (i.e. most corporations), there could be some major changes to make an expensive orbital research station more profitable. Russia's space agency has stated their desire to carve out a wing of the ISS for space tourism, and if the station is taken over by a corporation which deals in real estate, the ISS could become a hotel for the uber-rich before too long.

Currently, funding for the ISS ends in 2025, although there's plenty of opportunities to renew it before then. We may have to rely on the future lunar space station if the ISS is no longer viable for scientific research.
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