McNASA: The International Space Station Opens for Business for the First Time in History (And We Have Questions)

Friday, 07 June 2019 - 12:42PM
Science News
Friday, 07 June 2019 - 12:42PM
McNASA: The International Space Station Opens for Business for the First Time in History (And We Have Questions)
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Image credit: NASA/Public domain
Today NASA announced that the ISS is open – officially and unironically – for business and pleasure. The International Space Station will play host to commercial ventures and tourism starting in 2020.


An interim directive – which you can read here – will allow companies to rent parts of the space station and use ISS resources including NASA astronauts' time and attention. (Talk about a niche focus group.) Companies can send private astronauts beginning in 2020, which will be capped at thirty-day maximums and only two missions per year will be greenlit. NASA is also exploring the option of private commercial pods either attached directly to the space station or orbiting nearby, city-above-the-clouds style, according to The Verge.

There are, of course, limitations in place to vet commercial bids, all of which must meet one of the following criteria: requiring microgravity in order to function, supporting NASA's goals as a scientific agency, or furthering "the development of a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy."

The latter point is what leaves considerable room for interpretation. Whose interests will this economy serve? What legal governance applies to corporate entities operating in space? Is this model a breeding ground for monopolies, given that only a slim fraction of corporations have the kind of capital that allows them to send their operations into orbit?

This is not to suggest that the ISS will suddenly be overrun by Big Pharma or Big Mac. However, it is a curious reversal for an agency that previously forbade commercial use of the ISS and even went so far as to prevent its astronauts from participating in for-profit research, as BBC pointed out. Even products sent to the space station had to prove some level of educational or technological merit in order to be allowed onboard.

Then again, perhaps it isn't so curious – Donald Trump's 2018 budget will strip the ISS of government funding by 2025. Perhaps – like so many other scientific agencies in the United States these days – they are simply doing whatever it takes to survive the current administration.

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