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14 October 1997
Media - Other (None)
NASA debates shuttle privatization
Shuttle might expand into space tourism - surely not?
by Patrick Collins
Space News Oct 6-12 carried a front page story about privatizing space shuttle operations: "Shuttle haggling begins: NASA, company see different paths to privatization"

The company "USA" (United Space Alliance) which has operated the space shuttle for NASA since October 1, 1996, is now in discussion with NASA about its full privatization. There are plenty of negotiations ahead, in order to try to reach an agreement satisfying both NASA's and the operating company's requirements.

In the company's "draft space shuttle privatization plan" a major objective is to increase the number of commercial customers, to do which they have a number of ideas aimed at increasing the flight rate. It's reported that this proposal "...also covers "might-be" markets, such as tourism and entertainment." Wow!

The fact that the responsible people in the company could bring themselves to discuss this is a very encouraging sign of how much things have changed recently.

In fact it seems unlikely that they'll be able to get the operating costs of the space shuttle down low enough to be attractive to tourists. But the incremental cost of carrying one more person is very low, so who knows? - maybe we'll see them auctioning off a few spare seats, like the Russians!

In order to do this they need some changes in US law, specifically in order to allow the space shuttle to be used for non-urgent commercial payloads. One thing leads to another, and there's no question - things are moving!

Source: Space News, 6-12 October (USA)

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Patrick Collins 14 October 1997
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