Companies Have To Arrange Own Transportation, Though
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Monday it
will open part of the international space station to outside
scientists and researchers after its completion in three years.
Though much of the recent focus at NASA has been on returning to
the moon and going to Mars, "We didn't need the entire capacity of
the space station to do exploration-related research," said Mark
Uhran, NASA's assistant associate administrator of the space
station. "So the capacity that was freed up after we restructured
our program is now available to other agencies or private sector
Interested companies would be able to use about half of the US
section for free -- no fees will be charged.
NASA is talking with several agencies like the National
Institutes of Health as well as private businesses that have
expressed an interest in conducting research in the microgravity
laboratory, according to the Associated Press.
The plan does depend, however, on private companies building
their own spacecraft able to travel to the outpost when the
shuttles are grounded in 2010. So far, NASA has awarded $500
million to two private companies for that purpose and has inked
agreements with a few others.
transportation system is a critical factor," Uhran said.
The first section of the ISS was launched in 1998 and Russian,
US and European astronauts have been aboard continuously since
2000, reports the AP. The three-member crew is expected to expand
to six by 2009. The ISS was designed to last until at least 2015,
but it is now believed it will operate until well into 2022.
"What probably drives the life is ... probably how much the
space station is utilized," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's
associate administrator for space operations.
Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2010. With the
shuttles grounded, NASA will shift its focus to its manned
spaceflight program. The program includes a plan to return to the
moon in an Orion spacecraft.
The ISS will cost about $1.5 billion a year to operate after