NASA is looking forward to extending the possibilities of astronaut activities in low-Earth orbit. The agency recently declared that it is planning to buy a seat on a private mission to the International space station within the upcoming five years. The mission is set to be a short one, lasting between 15 to 30 days instead of six months that is the current standard for astronauts on the ISS. NASA has carried out an ISS mission lasting a year already and has expressed the desire to continue the trend as well as extending the stay of astronauts already on the orbiting station.
Agency officials, however, confirmed that short-term missions would also be of value to NASA. In a statement released on November 26, 2019, NASA officials said that while planning for NASA’s mission for manned exploration of the moon and Mars, it recognized a need to use missions with a range of lengths. The missions will be used to gather standardized information to assess the physical, behavioral and emotional factors that are critical for astronaut health and performance on potential deep space, long-term missions.
The statement added that NASA had identified plans of up to 30 days on its private astronaut missions. The timeframe Is sufficient to conduct studies and gather information to build an exhaustive spaceflight physiological profile, the statement added.
NASA has collaborated with Boeing and SpaceX to travel on regular flights to the ISS on their spacecraft, named CST-100 Starliner as well as the Crew Dragon, respectively. The contract was awarded in September 2014. Under the contract, the flights will carry four NASA astronauts each time, although the Starliner and Crew Dragon can both carry seven astronauts. If NASA goes ahead to book a seat on a short-term flight, the agency will most likely use one of those two spacecraft. Boeing was awarded $4.3 billion, while SpaceX was given $2.5 billion for the project.
The agency’s Commercial low-Earth orbit representative at the Human Exploration and the Operations Mission Directorate, Doug Comstock, said in a tweet on November 27 that NASA will be among the clients buying one of four seats that are open for commercial trips.”
In another tweet, he added that the agency is planning to buy just one seat, with the rest of the vacancies to be determined by industry players. Both the Starliner and the Crew Dragon have not been on crewed missions yet, although both companies are close to flight readiness.