The agency’s next step in exploring and commercializing outer space is to get more civilians and companies in on the act.
The next logical step in humans’ exploration of space is to start having more civilian ventures—and commercial, money-making ones—in outer space. NASA is onboard with this step. It has made it a priority to seed and encourage a strong, bustling, and competitive low Earth orbit (LEO) economy with itself as a strong player and user of commercial services and equipment. To NASA, LEO ends at about 1,200 miles above Earth, but that’s where the International Space Station (ISS) orbits and it is relatively easy to get up into LEO and back.
NASA’s five-point plan for setting up this LEO economy includes:
- Establishing a commercial use and pricing policy for the ISS that will reduce uncertainties for companies and let them devise business plans involving purely commercial activities, including marketing and tourism.
- Letting civilian astronauts of all nationalities onboard the ISS (for a price) as early as possible to train and carry out experiments and R&D, and setting up a process to assess and approve such missions.
- Codifying a process for developing commercial LEO destinations. As part of that goal, add a new docking module to the ISS to encourage more commercial flights to it.
- Investing in outside parties to explore and refine-space manufacturing and upgrading the ISS.
- Prioritizing NASA’s long-term need for programs that can be carried out in LEO. These include space life and physical-science research, determining the effects of space on humans, technology demonstrations, life cycle testing on equipment before deploying it to deeper space and in-flight crew training.
Accomplishing these goals should lay the groundwork for acquiring the know-how, equipment and experienced personnel that will be needed for future space programs, such as returning to the Moon and manned exploration of Mars
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