Well, this is unexpected: Beginning in 2020—i.e. next year—NASA will begin letting tourists and other private astronauts visit the International Space Station (ISS), the agency announced today in a tweet:
Ever since the ISS was first launched into orbit in 1998 and some astronauts began calling it home in 2011, countries have toyed with opening up the habitable artificial satellite to tourists. Russia, for example, announced plans to build a luxury hotel on the ISS back in 2017 (it’ll cost you a cool $40 million for a one-week stay) and has .
This is the first time, however, that NASA has officially welcomed tourists to the ISS; until now, the U.S. has restricted the ISS’s use to non-commercial purposes. But now we’re open for business—for movies, commercials, product testing, and the works, from NASA.
NASA Strategic Objective 2.1 directs the Agency to "lay the foundation for America to maintain a constant human presence in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to be enabled by a commercial market." That entails, per the directive:
- Manufacturing, production, transportation of commercial resources and goods, including products intended for commercial sale on Earth.
- Inclusion of Private Astronauts on United States Government (USG) or commercial missions to the ISS and associated on-orbit activities; including Commercial and Marketing Activities.
- USG Astronauts conducting coordinated and scheduled activities in support of Commercial and Marketing Activities.
- Provision of resources available for use on the ISS for Commercial and Marketing Activities and associated pricing.
“NASA is opening the International Space Station to commercial opportunities and marketing these opportunities as we’ve never done before,” said chief financial officer Jeff DeWit, . Meanwhile, Robyn Gatens, deputy director of the ISS, said there will be one to two short private astronaut missions per year.
As you'd expect, it won't be cheap to use ISS facilities. According to NASA, it'll cost $22,500 a day for crews to use supplies like food, air, and exercise equipment, while daily use of the satellite's toilet and regenerative life support runs for $11,250. Then again, if you have the kind of coin to take a trip to the ISS to shoot a movie, then you can probably stomach a few days of a pricey toilet tax.
We'll have more information as it comes out, as well as some thoughtful speculation about what the ISS could look like in five, 10, and 20 years. Stay tuned.