NASA is joining forces with Virgin Galactic to support the future of space tourism.
On Monday (June 22), NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas penned a Space Act Agreement with the spaceflight company Virgin Galactic to develop a "private orbital astronaut readiness program." This initiative is among NASA's efforts to increase commercial use of the International Space Station (ISS), a goal the agency announced over a year ago.
The partnership will include "identifying candidates interested in purchasing private astronaut missions to the ISS," according to a Virgin Galactic statement (opens in new tab). It will also encompass training for those private astronauts, transportation to the space station, and support and coordination using space station resources for future missions under this program. Virgin Galactic has not yet disclosed more specific details about these future flights within this program and how they will operate or how much they might cost.
"We are excited to partner with NASA on this private orbital spaceflight program, which will not only allow us to use our spaceflight platform, but also offer our space training infrastructure to NASA and other agencies," George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said in the same statement.
On Friday (June 19), before the agreement was announced, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted: "BREAKING: @NASA is developing the process to fly astronauts on commercial suborbital spacecraft. Whether it's suborbital, orbital, or deep space, NASA will utilize our nation's innovative commercial capabilities. RFI will be released next week."
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides retweeted Bridenstine's statement and added: "This is big news. Across a range of programs and destinations, NASA is catalyzing innovation and leading the way toward a positive future in space. We look forward to working with the agency to advance this exciting capability to fly NASA astronauts."
This is big news. Across a range of programs and destinations, NASA is catalyzing innovation and leading the way toward a positive future in space. We look forward to working with the agency to advance this exciting capability to fly NASA astronauts. @JimBridenstine @NASA https://t.co/0gR7mUvotqJune 19, 2020
Virgin Galactic's new Space Act agreement "also serves as a pathfinder for the ISS National Laboratory," according to the statement, by demonstrating NASA's increasing involvement in commercial spaceflight, specifically with regard to the space station.
This is not Virgin Galactic's first astronaut program. The company currently runs a Future Astronaut Readiness program for customers who have signed up to fly from their launch site, Spaceport America in New Mexico. The new collaboration with NASA will use that launch site for some elements, including private astronaut training.
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