NEW YORK — As NASA shifts its priorities to landing astronauts to the moon, it is opening the International Space Station for commercial business, agency officials announced today (June 7) at a news conference here at the Nasdaq MarketSite.
Private companies can now apply to launch short-duration commercial crew missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct for-profit activities like off-Earth manufacturing, marketing and advertising.
Although the private astronauts won't work for NASA, they will still receive rigorous astronaut training from NASA to ensure that they are qualified for spaceflight. Those astronauts will be able to launch on commercial crew vehicles like SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner.
NASA is currently planning to end its support of the ISS by 2024, the same year that NASA astronauts are slated to return to the surface of the moon. With or without NASA, the 20-year-old station is approaching the end of its lifetime. So, rather than abandoning the aging laboratory, NASA is transitioning the station's operations to the private sector to stimulate the development of a low-Earth-orbit economy and give companies a place to demonstrate technologies needed for the 2024 moon landing.
Commercializing the ISS "will enable NASA to focus resources to land the next man and the first woman on the moon by 2024," Jeff DeWit, NASA's chief financial officer, told reporters during the news conference.
After 2024, the ISS will be in the hands of NASA's commercial and international partners, but the agency isn't retreating from the station entirely. Rather, NASA will become one of many customers that can purchase services at the ISS at a lower cost to taxpayers than what it currently costs for NASA to those things on its own, DeWit said.
More than 50 companies are already using the ISS for research and development. Under NASA's new policy, commercial entities will have the opportunity to broaden the scope of their activities at the orbiting lab, to include manufacturing, marketing, advertising and other for-profit activities, Robyn Gatens, NASA's deputy director for the ISS program, said at the news conference.
NASA has published detailed guidelines for private companies wishing to apply for use of the ISS, which you can read here.