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NASA lays out space station commercialization plan

"For Sale" sign in space
As a joke, NASA spacewalker Dale Gardner holds up a “For Sale” sign during a shuttle mission in 1984, in an era when the space shuttle fleet took on commercial satellite servicing tasks. (NASA Photo)

NASA today laid out its initial batch of ground rules for future commercial activitieson the International Space Station, including provisions for having private-sector astronauts spend up to 30 days in orbit.

But it doesn’t sound as if those private astronauts will be spending all their time just looking out the window: The ventures that organize the space trips will have to file a work plan explaining the proposed mission and what orbital resources will be required. And the ventures will have to reimburse NASA for the use of those resources to the tune of $35,000 or so per day, on top of a launch cost likely to exceed $50 million.

NASA chief financial officer Jeff DeWit said the new policies, including some yet to be announced, should mark a paradigm shift for the space agency as it focuses on moving beyond Earth orbit and putting astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024. NASA’s new directive clears the space agency to participate in marketing and manufacturing activities, for a price.

“This will open space to new companies to unleash American corporate innovation and ingenuity in new markets, all driving a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers,” he said.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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