Why SpaceX and Boeing can sell extra seats to orbit

Sunita Williams in SpaceX Dragon mockup
NASA astronaut Sunita Williams wears a SpaceX spacesuit as she sits in a mockup for a Crew Dragon spaceship. (SpaceX Photo)

RENTON, Wash. — When NASA’s Phil McAlister worked out the contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, he made sure they could make some money on the side.

The contracts contain a clause that allows the companies to propose putting a private spaceflight participant in one of the extra seats aboard SpaceX’s Dragon craft or Boeing’s Starliner spaceship, said McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters.

“Contractually, we put a hook in there,” McAlister said today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s annual NewSpace conference in Renton. “I made sure it was there. It was very important for that capability to be in the contract.”

The clause kicks in once SpaceX and Boeing get their space taxis certified for flight, which could happen as early as next year.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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