From the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to a polar cruise to the ends of the Earth, with the right disposable income, well-heeled travelers can visit just about anywhere these days. The next big travel destination isn’t anywhere on Earth, however. NASA is thinking much bigger. The space agency is teasing the possibility for space tourism as early as 2020 — yes, next year.
This month, NASA announced it’s expanding commercial operations aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This includes opening up the ISS to space tourism with the hope of allowing wannabe-astronauts to visit the low-earth-orbit station for up to 30 days. The plan depends on public interest, although it’s hard to imagine a shortage of one-percenters lining up for the next launch. Because NASA is outsourcing transportation to the station to SpaceX and Boeing, it’s also contingent on the availability of both companies to facilitate rides to and from the station.
— NASA (@NASA) June 7, 2019
Both companies have always had permission to carry private citizens into space, but NASA historically maintained a strict “astronauts only” policy aboard the ISS. That meant that, even if they managed to get to space, potential passengers previously had nowhere to dock. Now, they’re committed to providing tourists with not only a place to stay but the necessary training to survive the microgravity environment of space prior to their visit.
Even a fat wallet won’t be enough to secure a seat to space, however. NASA’s ISS Deputy Director confirms the trips will be extremely limited. “We’re enabling up to two commercial flights with private astronauts per year. Depending on how many seats they want to carry, that would be a dozen or so private astronauts potentially per year on the International Space Station.”
The real question, though: How much will it cost? NASA’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWit said the nightly rate for accommodations aboard the ISS is approximately USD $33,750. That includes $11,250 for life support and bathroom privileges (both of which you’re probably going to want), plus another $22,500 for air, food, and medical services, which also sound like attractive offerings. Those rates don’t include the yet-to-be-announced cost required for SpaceX or Boeing to ferry passengers to the International Space Station. There’s also no word yet about the booze situation on-board or whether they’ll be accepting frequent flyer miles.
Still, compared to the world’s most expensive hotel suite — the absurd, $100,000-a-night Empathy Suite at Palms Casino — it almost seems like a bargain.