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NASA Report Now Says Private Human Spaceflight May Raise ISS Costs

This is why we can't have nice things.


NASA was pretty pumped about their decision to award Boeing and SpaceX with contracts to bring human spaceflight back to the U.S., but a new internal audit shows they might not want to get over the Moon about it just yet. As it turns out, maintaining the ISS until 2024 with private contractors may actually cost more money than the already expensive Russian Soyuz space capsules.

NASA’s own inspector general Paul Martin has released a report that they’ve underestimated the cost of using the private space taxis. They already estimated that the cost of transportation would increase annual ISS spending from $3 to $4 billion over the next ten years, but Martin now says that estimate was overly optimistic.

They used the $70 million price of a seat on a Soyuz capsule launch as their baseline for estimates, but Martin says they’ll likely pay more than that to use the private firms. They’re also having trouble offsetting the cost by attracting private companies to pay to do research on the ISS, because current law would automatically award the patent for anything accomplished there to the government. Unless changes are made to those rules, it’s unlikely that NSASA will get the support they were anticipating from private researchers.

Meanwhile, yet another SpaceX Dragon cargo launch docked with the ISS earlier this morning, and it will remain docked there for four weeks as the station’s crew unloads supplies, experiments, and 20 adorable mouse astronauts from it. Then, they’ll pack it back up with cargo and experiment results to be analyzed back on Earth, and it’ll make its journey back to splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

The point of the private contracts for these supply missions and future manned missions is to allocate NASA’s resources towards more ambitious goals than just bring cargo to and from the ISS—like sending human beings to Mars. So let’s hope they can get the red tape out of the way and at least attract more private research to the station to make the private system offset its own costs better. Russia has indicated that they don’t plan on maintaining the ISS past 2020, so NASA doesn’t really have a choice but to go the private route.

(via New Scientist and, image via NASA)

Previously in space

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.