Space tourism (or at least, tourism within the Earth’s orbit) is coming soon. On June 7, Nasa announced that it was preparing to open up the International Space Station (ISS) for tourist trips and “commercial opportunities”. The first “private astronauts” could land in 2020, the agency said at a press conference, with two short missions launched each year. That would mean around a dozen tourists a year.
The estimated cost of the journey? 58 million dollars for a return trip lasting 30 days, or “around 35,000 dollar a night per astronaut“, according to the agency’s financial director, Jeff DeWit.
Besides transport and accommodation costs, rich tourists from Earth will have to pay out to meet their basic needs at an altitude of 400 kilometers. According to a price list (per day, per person) published by the American space agency on May 31, bathrooms and first aid kits on board will cost 11,250 dollars; food, air and exercise equipment costs 22,500 dollars, a gigabyte of data costs 50 dollars and waste removal costs 3,000 dollars per kilo.
In 2001, the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, paid Russia around 20 million dollars for the chance to see the Earth from space. Since then, seven other private guests have paid for the same opportunity.
Five Years To Financially Disengage
As well as launching billionaires into space, the opening up of the ISS to commercial ventures also means that private companies will be able to pay Nasa to use the laboratories on the space station. In order to be accepted, commercial missions must include experiments on microgravity, be linked to Nasa research programs or work to develop the economy of the Earth’s orbit.
This opening up to the private sector through tourism and scientific research is also a way for Nasa to accelerate its financial disengagement from the International Space Station, a giant metal vessel weighing 400 tons and measuring 109 meters long, which has become too much of a burden on the agency’s budgets. Each year, the station costs between 3 and 4 billion dollars, The Verge reports, of the agency’s total budget of 20 billion.
Although the end of the collaboration between the various space agencies has been agreed, the decommissioning of the station is taking a while. Currently, the fate of the ISS hasn’t yet been confirmed: will it be transformed into a tourist complex thanks to a reduction in the costs of space travel, an astroport, a private microgravity laboratory or a giant comet which will tumble to Earth in the middle of the Pacific?
For now, Nasa is redoubling its efforts to transform the ISS into a source of revenue. In the coming years, we are likely to see a progressive privatization of the flagship of 20th century international scientific cooperation.
Article translated by: Eleanor Staniforth