• Author W. G. TUTTLE

We knew it was coming: ISS open to other uses

So, we all knew it was coming, but now that it's here, what do you think about the International Space Station opening up for commercial uses?

Remember, the ISS was set to retire on or about 2024. That's 5 years from now--and another $17.5 billion, assuming an annual budget of $3.5 billion allocated to the ISS.

The first mission could come as early as 2020 for a price tag of over $50 million. Hell, that could be any amount above. But let's assume each mission brings in $50 million. Let's also assume that that will be the only mission booked in 2020. That one mission will only offset the $3.5 billion annual budget about 1.4%.

So, how many missions would it take to cover ISS' $3.5 billion annual budget--70 missions (straight math). Over 1 mission per week over 52 weeks? Doubtful. $10 million a day for five days or less in space? Who would do that? Who could afford that? NASA, that's who--because they're damn near spending $10 million a day over 365 days, thus, the $3.5 billion budget.

With, literally, only fifty thousand or so ultra-high-net-worth individuals who could afford such an endeavor without breaking their own banks as well as some businesses, it seems the demand for such flights by those who could afford it is limited. Reduce that limitation by those who would actually pass testing and training and the funnel narrows. And after experiencing it once, I would imagine that would probably be it for a lifetime, so few repeat customers here.

That's just the financial scope. I didn't even get into the age of the station, maintaining its integrity, or investigating alternative uses of the ISS budget. I just don't see this being viable, where mission revenue covers the ongoing costs of the ISS.

Lastly, let's talk alternatives. The ISS has been an outstanding learning vehicle and humankind wouldn't be able to reach farther into the stars without what we had learned there, especially the impacts of space on the human body. So, let's move on, shall we? To where? Mars. How? By retiring the ISS and using its budget, using the Orion budget, tapping the "new mission" budget, stealing from "other" budgets where possible, increasing NASA's budget annually, and continuing to partner with other space agencies and commercial groups such as SpaceX. If that didn't get us there, I would take a serious look at other programs in America's budget.

The mission would be as bare bones as possible: four people in stasis in the Orion or some other capsule perched on a rocket with a one-way ticket to Mars and another craft filled to the gills with "colonization" materials, i.e., shelter, food, water, clothing; the only experiment would be to see how long these astronauts survive. Supplies ships would keep coming as long as human life, even one, continued.

We could wait, plan, and save and maybe nothing catastrophic happens. But I think we already know that the human body is not made for space, Mars and other planets in our solar system impose enormous challenges for human life to continue there, and the solar system may not continue as it is today, thus the importance of looking for an Earth alternative. It will never be cheaper as is will right now and I believe this trip, success or disaster, will spur on new technologies, methodologies, and other advancements to get us where we need to be for eventual interstellar travel.

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