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In 1984, during the Reagan administration, a law created by NASA was amended to encourage private extraterrestrial entrepreneurship: as far as possible, the fullest commercial use of the space. “

For human spaceflight, early commercialization efforts were scattered. Plans to privatize NASA’s space shuttle operations have been postponed following the loss of Challenger in 1986.

Instead, the Soviet space program in the fading years of communism was ahead of NASA in selling access to space. In 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama, a Japanese television reporter, flew a Soyuz rocket to the Soviet Mir space station. The trip was paid for by his employer, the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

At the same time, a group of British companies sponsored a competition to send the first British citizen into space. The winner was Helen Sharman, a chemist. She visited Mir in 1991. At the end of the decade, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia gave Mir to MirCorp, a Russian-American trading company.

American Jeffrey Manber ran MirCorp and he planned to turn the space station into a center for tourism and entertainment. NBC has commissioned a reality TV show to be produced by Mark Burnett, creator of Survivor and The Apprentice.

“If you wanted to work with the capitalists in space in the 1990s, you worked with the Russians,” Mr. Manbert joked in an interview in 2018. If you wanted to work with the socialists, you worked with NASA. “

MirCorp’s dreams did not come true because NASA urged Russia to sink Mir and instead focus on the International Space Station.

To the horror of NASA officials, Russia has sold trips to the International Space Station. Denis Tito, an American entrepreneur, was the first Russian tourist to visit the station in 2001. But Russia stopped accepting private passengers in 2009, when NASA had to buy free space in Russian rockets for its astronauts to withdraw space shuttles. also received from the space station.

As SpaceX can now provide transportation for American astronauts and NASA is no longer a paying customer, Russia has resumed sales of space station travel. The last trips at the end of 2021 were Russian film director and actress and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant.

In the last few years, NASA has opened up to the idea of ​​space tourism. He hopes private companies will be able to launch commercial bases into orbit to eventually replace the International Space Station. Jim Braidenstein, the NASA administrator during the Trump administration, often talks about NASA being one of many customers and how that would significantly reduce NASA’s costs.

But for NASA to be one customer out of many, there must be other customers. Ultimately, other applications such as pharmaceutical research or zero-gravity manufacturing may finally be realized.

But for now, the most promising market is rich people who pay for space travel themselves.

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