by Nick Allen, The Telegraph, June 10, 2019
Nasa is opening up the International Space Station to tourists, who will be able to pay nearly $60 million (£47.1m) for month-long holidays in orbit starting from next year.
The space agency also announced private companies would be allowed to use the orbiting platform for business ventures including filming TV advertisements, and using Nasa astronauts to market their products.
It is part of Nasa's attempt to recoup some of the $100 billion cost of the space station as the agency begins to focus on the expensive project of returning astronauts to the moon.
Nasa will charge tourists tens of thousands of dollars per night for lodging, food, water, and use of life support systems on the space station.
Jim DeWit, the agency's chief financial officer, said: "If you look at the pricing and you add it up, back of a napkin, it would be roughly $35,000 a night, per astronaut. But it won’t come with any Hilton or Marriott points."
The bulk of the bill for would-be space tourists will be an estimated $58 million for a round-ticket seat on a space taxi.
That money will go to either SpaceX or Boeing, both of which are developing vehicles to make the trip.
Private astronauts will travel on SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, or Boeing's Starliner.
Nasa said there would be up to two such trips a year, and stays would be for a maximum of 30 days.
A total of up to a dozen private astronauts could go per year, and would be selected by the private tour operators.
The space agency made its announcement at the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York, where it announced it was "opening the space station for commercial business" and hoped to attract customers.
It said the aim was to "accelerate a thriving commercial economy in low-Earth orbit" and to "strengthen the burgeoning space economy."
Nasa said it will also allow "marketing, and promoting, commercial products and services," raising the possibility that trips could be used by private companies for advertising purposes.
Advertisers will be charged for using the space station to promote "products intended for commercial sale on Earth," Nasa said.
They will be able to buy 90 hours of "crew time" per year, meaning Nasa astronauts could be used to advertise products. The products would have to weigh less than 175kg.
A Nasa spokesman said: "Nasa astronauts will be able to conduct coordinated, scheduled and reimbursable commercial and marketing activities consistent with government ethics requirements aboard the station."
Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator at Nasa, said it was unknown what the end result of the new "open for business" policy would be.
He said: "We have no idea what kinds of creativity, and literally out of the world ideas, can come from private industry."
Nasa has previously talked to private companies about taking over the entire operation of the costly space station, but none have wanted to.
It will not be the first time a space tourist has been to the station. Roscosmos, Nasa's Russian counterpart, has previously taken privately funded astronauts there. In 2001 Dennis Tito, an American businessman, paid around $20 million to go to the space station on a Russian rocket.