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How Space Travel is Destroying the Planet | The Deets – Digital Trends

Space travel has changed a lot in the past few years. In the 1960’s we were racing the Russians to the moon. Now, we have billionaire entrepreneurs racing to send their friends into space. Heck, Elon Musk even sent a freaking Tesla into space. These ventures are all possible because of the resources of the rich, but what about the planet’s resources? We looked into the effects that these launches have on the planet and oh boy, Houston, we do have a problem.

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How Deep Space Travel Could Affect The Brain – Eurasia Review

Radiation exposure alters the electrophysiological properties of neurons in the hippocampus. Credit Acharya et al., eNeuro 2019

Radiation exposure alters the electrophysiological properties of neurons in the hippocampus. Credit: Acharya et al., eNeuro 2019

By

Exposure to chronic, low dose radiation — the conditions present in deep space — causes neural and behavioral impairments in mice, researchers report in eNeuro.

These results highlight the pressing need to develop safety measures to protect the brain from radiation during deep space missions as astronauts prepare to travel to Mars.

Radiation is known to disrupt signaling among other processes in the
brain. However, previous experiments used short-term, higher dose-rate
exposures of radiation, which does not accurately reflect the conditions
in space.

To investigate how deep space travel could affect the nervous
system, Charles Limoli and colleagues at the University of California,
Irvine, Stanford University, Colorado State University and the Eastern
Virginia School of Medicine exposed mice to chronic, low dose radiation
for six months. They found that the radiation exposure impaired cellular
signaling in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, resulting in
learning and memory impairments. They also observed increased anxiety
behaviors, indicating that the radiation also impacted the amygdala.

The researchers predict that during a deep space mission
approximately one in five astronauts would experience anxiety-like
behavior and one in three would experience certain levels of memory
impairments. Additionally, the astronauts may struggle with
decision-making.

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The global space business is worth $415 billion – Yahoo Finance

Fifty years ago, the world watched as American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon, the culmination of a near decade-long race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to determine the world’s technologically superior nation.

Today, a new space race has emerged, not between rival superpowers, but competing private enterprise backed by some of the planet’s richest men. Companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are leading the charge to commercialize space travel, and they’re creating a ton of excitement along the way.

“Everybody’s talking about space again,” said Rich Cooper, Vice President of Strategic Communications and Outreach at the Space Foundation.

“Space has been cool for those of us who have been part of the industry, but there is a whole new generation of Americans that are getting reignited and excited about space because of companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic,” he added. “You’re having a whole new set of market entrepreneurs enter this area and really bring the cost to access space down, but also communicating with people that makes them feel connected to it.”

According to the Space Foundation, the global space economy is now worth about $414.75 billion, with more than half of that value coming from commercial space products and services.

Cooper says that number is only expected to grow as space related technologies creep into all corners of the developed world.

The global space economy reached new heights in 2018, exceeding $400 billion for the first time ever.

“Space is a critical infrastructure,”he said. “Everything that we do here on Earth is directly connected to what’s happening above. Whether that be cell phones, whether that be data, whether that be advanced medical technology… every facet of our lives is connected to that and that’s what becomes a larger part of a global space economy that is creating jobs and is creating opportunity that we always thought were reserved for the rocket scientists and the astronauts.”

Mars by 2030?

With the lunar landing behind us, experts and science fiction fans alike are looking to the next frontier in space travel: Mars. Depending on the time of year, the red planet sits anywhere from 33 million to 250 million miles away from Earth, putting the total travel time anywhere between 39 and 289 days. Although a trip that long may sound like a daunting task, Cooper said we could possibly send a human to Mars by 2030.

“The hope is that we could see [reaching Mars] hopefully within the early 2030’s if at all possible, if not sooner,” Cooper said. “This is a longer journey that needs to be taken and there are steps that need to be taken to make sure that it is safe, it is affordable, and it is sustainable.”

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The Future of Space is Tiny

While recent commercial competition has dropped the cost of reaching orbit to a point that many would have deemed impossible just a decade ago, it’s still incredibly expensive. We’ve moved on from the days where space was solely the domain of world superpowers into an era where multi-billion dollar companies can join on on the fun, but the technological leaps required to reduce it much further are still largely relegated to the drawing board. For the time being, thing’s are as good as they’re going to get.

Starlink satellites ready for launch

If we can’t count on the per pound cost of an orbital launch to keep dropping over the next few years, the next best option would logically be to design spacecraft that are smaller and lighter. Thankfully, that part is fairly easy. The smartphone revolution means we can already pack an incredible amount sensors and processing power into something that can fit in the palm of your hand. But there’s a catch: the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation.

Often referred to as simply the “rocket equation”, it allows you to calculate (among other things) the ratio of a vehicle’s useful cargo to its total mass. For an orbital rocket, this figure is very small. Even with a modern launcher like the Falcon 9, the payload makes up less than 5% of the liftoff weight. In other words, the laws of physics demand that orbital rockets are huge.

Unfortunately, the cost of operating such a rocket doesn’t scale with how much mass it’s carrying. No matter how light the payload is, SpaceX is going to want around $60,000,000 USD to launch the Falcon 9. But what if you packed it full of dozens, or even hundreds, of smaller satellites? If they all belong to the same operator, then it’s an extremely cost-effective way to fly. On the other hand, if all those “passengers” belong to different groups that split the cost of the launch, each individual operator could be looking at a hundredfold price reduction.

SpaceX has already packed 60 of their small and light Starlink satellites into a single launch, but even those craft are massive compared to what other groups are working on. We’re seeing the dawn of a new era of spacecraft that are even smaller than CubeSats. These tiny spacecraft offer exciting new possibilities, but also introduce unique engineering challenges.

Kickstarting the ChipSat

Certainly the smallest of the currently operational spacecraft, Chipsats (also known as Sprites) are the product of a Kickstarter from 2011. The idea was to create an extremely simplistic free-flying satellite that could be packed by the hundreds into a dispenser which itself would travel to space as ridesharing payload. To reduce cost and mass, the craft wouldn’t bother with any sort of physical radiation shielding, or even a rigid frame for that matter. As the name implies, they would literally be bare PCBs with exposed chips on them. They wouldn’t last long, and some might not even survive the deployment, but when you’re releasing 100 of them at a shot you can afford to lose a couple.

Chipsat prototype from 2011

Each Chipsat weighed less than 4 g, and measured 3.6 cm a side. Being essentially prototypes, they carried only the bare essential electronics: small photovoltaic panels for energy production, a Texas Instruments CC430F513X microcontroller with integrated RF transceiver running at 437 MHz, and a LSM9DS1 three axis accelerometer. Even batteries were considered a luxury; the Chipsats would only be able to operate when exposed to direct sunlight. The upside of this rather spartan Bill of Materials meant that each Chipsat could be manufactured for less than $100, even when using space-rated components.

Prototype Chipsats spent three years exposed to the space environment as part of the eighth Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which proved the design was more than robust enough to survive the short mission durations planned for them. In April 2014 the first operational Chipsat mission, known as KickSat, was released from the ISS. Unfortunately, due to a glitch in the KickSat “mothership”, the individual Chipsats failed to deploy.

The second attempt, KickSat-2, was deployed from the free-flying Cygnus SS John Glenn after it completed its cargo mission to the ISS in February of 2019. After spending a few weeks in orbit, KickSat-2 successfully deployed 105 Chipsats, setting a record for the highest number of satellites ever released simultaneously. Before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere just days later, ground stations were able to pick up signals from the individual Chipsats and verify they were operating as expected. Now that they’ve proved viable in low Earth orbit, NASA believes Chipsats could be deployed to nearby asteroids or even Mars in the future.

A Swarm of SpaceBEEs

Taking a considerably less minimalistic approach to small satellite design is the SpaceBEE from Swarm Technologies. With dimensions of 100 mm x 100 mm x 25 mm, these craft are quite a bit larger than the Chipsat, though still around 1/4 the size of the smallest CubeSat. They are intended to provide global low-bandwidth connectivity for sensors or devices that might otherwise not be able to get onto the Internet.

Interestingly, the size of the SpaceBEEs has become something of a stumbling block. They’re in the awkward situation of being large enough that they could potentially pose a danger to other spacecraft, but also small enough that it makes tracking them difficult. To help combat this, the sides of the SpaceBEE are covered with an experimental passive radar reflective material developed by the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. The material reportedly makes the sandwich-sized craft appear up to ten times as large on ground based radar.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission wasn’t convinced and rejected the application to launch and operate the SpaceBEEs. Incredibly, Swarm Technologies disregarded the FCC’s decision, and launched four SpaceBEE satellites in January of 2018 by way of an Indian rocket. The unauthorized launch earned the company a $900,000 fine and increased FCC oversight for the next three years.

Concerns over the radar visibility of the SpaceBEE prompted the decision to up-size the next four satellites in the constellation to a more traditional 1U CubeSat form factor, but it’s unclear if that was a stopgap measure due to the FCC’s concerns or the company’s new long-term plan for the constellation.

The Next Generation

The major downside of designs like the Chipsat or SpaceBEE, officially referred to as femtosatellites, is that their size makes it difficult to equip them with much of the hardware you’d expect in a traditional free-flying spacecraft. For example, a propulsion system. While the SpaceBEE does have the ability to rotate itself into a high drag orientation that allows for rudimentary orbital adjustments, the Chipsat is essentially just along for the ride. On short missions in Earth orbit the lack of propulsion isn’t that big of a deal, but for spacecraft like these to have a chance at doing real science far from home, they’ll need to be able to move around.

While the small size and low mass of femtosatellites means the classic bipropellant rocket engine is a nonstarter, those same traits do open up some interesting possibilities. As part of the ambitious Breakthrough Initiatives project, an attempt to search for and ultimately communicate with extraterrestrial life, several novel propulsion schemes have been proposed for gram-scale interstellar probes.

This hypothetical probe, called StarChip, would make use of photonic propulsion such as a solar sail and laser thrusters; concepts that would be far more difficult to realize with a larger craft. Today such technology is, at best, in the early stages of development. But thanks to this new era of micro spacecraft, engineers will be able to test and develop these concepts in real-world situations far faster and cheaper than was ever possible before.

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Axios Space – June 11, 2019 – Axios

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Greetings, and thanks for reading Axios Space, our weekly look at the science and business of space exploration. At 1,637 words, this week’s newsletter will take you about 6 minutes to read.

Please send your scoops, tips, questions and favorite planets to miriam.kramer@axios.com, or just reply to this email.

1 big thing: NASA’s murky commercial space future

Illustration of a space station in the shape of a dollar bill sign.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NASA’s plans to create a robust economy in low-Earth orbit where private spaceflight companies can flourish could eventually leave the agency’s astronauts stranded on Earth with nowhere to go.

Why it matters: NASA hopes to play a lead role in developing a private spaceflight economy, including private sector astronauts. The agency sees this as a way to free it up to focus on farther afield goals like bringing humans back to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.

  • But if private industry takes over human spaceflight destinations in low-Earth orbit and funding and political support for NASA missions to the Moon or Mars dissipates, there may be no point in having a government-sponsored human spaceflight program at all.

Driving the news: On Friday, NASA announced it would create a market for private human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit.

  • The agency wants American companies to fly their astronauts first to the International Space Station starting in 2020 and then later to space stations that companies operate themselves.

The catch: By largely giving up control of human spaceflight in orbit, a region of key importance for Earth science and other discoveries, NASA risks that its human spaceflight program might be more heavily impacted by political whims.

  • Today, NASA uses the International Space Station, in part, as a testbed for further exploration of the solar system.
  • With the ISS aging toward obsolescence, NASA may be carrying out that research on private space outposts in the future.
  • But if, at the same time, the deep space missions get delayed or canceled, it’s harder to see where NASA astronauts fit into that broader landscape.

“If the private sector takes over low-Earth orbit, and the political support for exploration dissipates, then what’s the rationale for a government program?”

— John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, to Axios

Between the lines: It’s realistic to imagine NASA’s exploration goals will shift in the near or long term. The space agency is constantly facing political whiplash when new administrations take over and impose new spaceflight goals.

  • The impetus for getting private companies into the human spaceflight game stems in part from the need to cut NASA’s costs of launching to orbit.
  • The agency currently spends about $1.8 billion of its $3 billion to $4 billion space station budget on transportation.
  • If launch costs were reduced, that would free up money for NASA’s broader exploration goals.

But, but, but: It’s not yet clear exactly how much demand there will be in the private sector for human spaceflight to low-Earth orbit. A 2017 report looking at the market for a privately run space station found there isn’t an obvious, profit-driven demand for such a facility in orbit, at least not yet.

2. The fading International Space Station

The International Space Station in darkness.

The International Space Station in darkness. Photo: NASA/JSC

For better or worse, sometime in the next decade, the International Space Station program will likely reach the end of its life, bringing a unique and successful venue for international diplomacy to an end.

Why it matters: The ISS has been a source of international collaboration in space since the first module launched in 1998, but when the program ends, there may be no publicly funded replacement on the way.

Details: Even if the private space stations NASA is now banking on never become a reality, eventually the ISS’ major components will reach the end of their technical lifespans in orbit.

  • “[T]he idea here is to start early so that there could be potentially a private sector space station that serves NASA’s needs,” NASA associate administrator William Gerstenmaier said during a NASA press conference at Nasdaq headquarters in New York on Friday.

The impact: When the space station ends, international collaboration in space could look very different. In fact, it could give way to growing competition instead.

  • U.S. space rival China is planning to have its own space station in orbit by around 2022, but it’s unclear exactly what kind of collaboration U.S. companies might be able to have with the nation.
  • The private space stations NASA’s betting on might one day play host to astronauts from other countries aside from the U.S. as well, potentially democratizing human spaceflight around the world.
  • NASA still plans to collaborate with other space programs on human spaceflight when the station ends. For example, the agency is working with Europe and Japan on its Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon.

Yes but: Private sector space stations are less likely to play a large role in space diplomacy, since they’ll be aiming for profit.

  • The ISS has acted like a peacekeeping force in the past. (In 2014, for example, Russia and the U.S. were at odds on Earth, but the two countries still needed to cooperate in space.)
  • It remains to be seen if a private space station will be able to fill that role as well.

3. Check out Jupiter this week

Jupiter as seen by the Cassini spacecraft.

Jupiter as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo: NASA/JPL/SScI

Look up this week to see Jupiter putting on a show for observers on Earth.

The big picture: The largest planet in our solar system is at its brightest this week. Jupiter is currently in a favorable alignment with Earth and the Sun, allowing the planet to shine brightly through the night and making observing the planet unusually rewarding.

Details: You can spot the huge planet with your naked eye at dusk and through the night all month, according to NASA.

  • Your view gets even better if you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. By using one of these tools, stargazers will be able to see the planet’s four largest moons — Ganymede, Europa, Callisto and Io — and possibly Jupiter’s distinctive bands of clouds.
  • Look east after sunset, and you should spot the bright planet shining above the horizon.

Be smart: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a planet and a star when looking with your naked eye, but there’s a shortcut to avoid that confusion.

  • If an object is twinkling, it’s a star. But if it doesn’t twinkle, it’s probably a planet.
  • A satellite, on the other hand, moves across the sky without blinking, while a plane’s flashing lights give it away.

4. A little black hole

A diffuse galaxy in infrared light.

NGC 4395 seen in infrared light. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The black hole in the center of the dwarf galaxy 14 million light-years away is much smaller than scientists initially estimated, according to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Why it matters: Black hole researchers think galaxies as large as our own host supermassive black holes at their centers, but it’s not exactly clear how they got to be the huge and mysterious objects they are now.

  • By studying smaller black holes — like the one in the center of the galaxy NGC 4395 — scientists should be able to turn back the clock to learn more about how supermassive black holes grew early in the universe’s history.

What they found: The new study found that NGC 4395’s black hole is about 40 times smaller than initially predicted, clocking in at about 10,000 times the mass of our Sun. (For reference, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is thought to be about 4 million times the mass of the Sun.)

What they did: The scientists behind the study used what’s known as “reverberation mapping” to weigh the black hole in the galaxy’s center.

  • This method relies on keeping an eye on the radiation emitted by the disk of matter surrounding the black hole, known as an accretion disk.
  • As that radiation passes through space, it hits another area of the galaxy known as the “broad-line region.”
  • The radiation unsettles the atoms in that region, causing them to change their state briefly and creating a bright flash that astronomers can measure.
  • The scientists were able to time how long it took for the radiation from the accretion disk to hit the broad-line region, enabling them to estimate the distance between the two and get a sense of the black hole’s mass.

The big picture: Intermediate-mass black holes like the one found in NGC 4395 have long been something of a curiosity in astronomy. Though researchers think they’ve tracked the origins of small black holes to the end of a star’s life, the origins of these intermediate-mass black holes are still mysterious.

5. Help name an exoplanet

An artist's impression of a Jupiter twin orbiting a distant star.

An artist’s impression of a Jupiter twin orbiting a distant star. Image: ESO/L. Benassi

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the body responsible for assigning official names to cosmic objects discovered by humanity — wants people around the world to help name planets and stars far away from our own solar system.

Why it matters: The IAU initiative can help democratize what’s usually an opaque naming process.

  • “Each nation’s designated star is visible from that country, and sufficiently bright to be observed through small telescopes,” the IAU wrote in a news release.

Details: So far, nearly 100 countries have signed up to take part in the naming program, and more can still join until July 30.

  • The IAU wants each country to organize a national campaign for the naming, where citizens can participate by offering suggestions for what the exoplanets and stars should be called.
  • Each country’s national committee will ask the public to vote on a few names. The winner will then be submitted to the IAU.
  • The IAU will announce the newly chosen names in December.

Go deeper: Find out if your country is participating in the program and what star and planet it has been assigned here.

6. Out of this world reading list

An Apollo astronaut with his back to the camera on the moon.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. Photo: NASA

Physicists debate Hawking’s idea that the universe had no beginning (Natalie Wolchover, Quanta)

New legislation calls for protection of Apollo 11 Moon landing site (Robert Pearlman, CollectSPACE)

A space tourist reacts to NASA’s plans for low-Earth orbit (Dave Mosher, Business Insider)

NASA chief responds to Trump’s Moon tweet (Rebecca Falconer, Axios)

Here’s how much it will cost you for a trip to the Space Station (Axios)

7. Your weekly dose of awe: A vortex on Jupiter

A dark vortex swirls on Jupiter.

A close-up, color-enhanced look at Jupiter’s clouds. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Seán Doran

This color-enhanced photo, taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, shows the swirling storms and bright clouds of Jupiter’s distinctive atmosphere.

  • The dark spot near the center of the image is thought to be some sort of vortex.
  • “Nearby, other features display bright, high altitude clouds that have puffed up into the sunlight,” NASA said in an image description.
  • Juno was about 9,200 miles away from the top of the planet’s clouds when the image was captured on May 29.

Interested members of the public can process raw photos taken by Juno’s JunoCam camera and made available by NASA. This one, for example, was edited by Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran.

Thanks for spending time with me this week. If this email was forwarded to you, subscribe here. See you next week! ✨

Editor’s note: Item 4 was corrected to say that the black hole in the center of the dwarf galaxy is 14 million light-years away (not 14 light-years).

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NASA is opening the space station to commercial business and more private astronauts

Today, NASA executives announced that the space agency will open up parts of the International Space Station to more commercial opportunities, allowing companies unprecedented use of the space station’s facilities, including filming commercials or movies against the backdrop of space. NASA is also calling on the private space industry to send in ideas for habitats and modules that can be attached to the space station semi-permanently.

A new interim directive from NASA allows private companies to buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. It also allows those companies to use resources on the ISS for commercial purposes, even making use of NASA astronauts’ time and expertise (but not their likeness). If companies want, they can even send their own astronauts to the ISS, starting as early as 2020, but all of these activities come with a hefty price tag.

It’s a significant turn for NASA, which has long been antagonistic toward commercializing the ISS. Russia is more open to ads and branding on the ISS (as it was with the Mir space station) and has sent tourists to the ISS before. But NASA has strictly prohibited the use of its side of the International Space Station for commercial purposes. Up until now, any company wishing to send products to the ISS had to show that there was some educational component to the undertaking or that it revolved around some kind of technology demonstration. No purely commercial projects are allowed to be sent to the ISS, and NASA astronauts are even prohibited from working on experiments if there’s a possibility that the research will be used to make a profit.

In August, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine formed a committee to look into ways of opening up the space agency to commercialization, arguing that doing so could provide new sources of revenue and name recognition for NASA. “Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to a spacecraft or the naming rights to its rockets?” Bridenstine said to a group of advisers for NASA in August. “I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: is it possible? And the answer is I don’t know, but we need somebody to give us advice on whether or not it is.”

NASA leadership has made it clear that the space agency wants to eventually transition control of the International Space Station and its region of space, low Earth orbit, to the private sector someday. It costs NASA $3 to $4 billion a year to operate the ISS, and by handing over control of the station, NASA could have more money to pursue much more ambitious missions, like the agency’s goals of building a new space station around the Moon and sending humans back to the lunar surface. In 2018, the president’s budget request called on ending direct funding for the ISS by 2025 and ceding operations of the orbiting lab to private companies. The White House is no longer pursuing that deadline of 2025 due to pushback from lawmakers, but NASA is still looking to jump-start the private space industry’s takeover of low Earth orbit.


The price of using resources and astronaut time on the International Space Station.
Image: NASA

To help achieve this, NASA commissioned 12 companies to study ways of establishing a heavy commercial presence in this region of space. Each company detailed ideas for new private space habitats that could either be attached to the ISS or fly free in low Earth orbit. Such platforms could serve as “destinations” for research and even private visitors, according to NASA, generating revenue and opening up entirely new business models. NASA did admit that the barrier to entry is still high since transporting people and cargo to space is quite expensive. But the space agency is still moving forward with commercialization based on what these studies found.

“You see, the space agency is looking at probably another 10 years of the ISS being in orbit, and saying, ‘Okay, how do we move forward?’” Jeff Manber, the CEO of NanoRacks, which coordinates shipments and experiments on the ISS, tells The Verge. “Let’s put our toes in the water on purely commercial projects. Let’s begin to allow tourism. And let’s begin to have the first commercial platforms supported by NASA. And so it’s a very important step forward. This is the beginning of a new chapter.”

Using the space station will come with some restrictions. NASA is allocating 5 percent of its resources on the station for these commercial activities. Only 175 kilograms per year in commercial cargo can be sent to the ISS, and NASA crew will only dedicate 90 hours a year to commercial activities. NASA has also released a list of approved commercial activities that the agency will allow on board. Private astronaut missions to the ISS are limited to two flights a year, and the astronauts will only be able to stay for 30 days. Right now, the only viable option for crew getting to the ISS is via new spacecraft being developed by SpaceX and Boeing for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which still haven’t flown people yet.

Additionally, using the space station’s facilities will be incredibly expensive. It’ll cost $11,250 per astronaut per day to use the life support systems and toilet and $22,500 per day for all necessary crew supplies, like food, air, medical supplies, and more. Even power will cost $42 per kilowatt-hour. Ultimately, one night’s stay would be about $35,000 for one person, according to Jeff DeWit, NASA’s chief financial officer. “But it won’t come with any Hilton or Marriott points,” DeWit joked at today’s announcement.

Some companies might want to go even bigger and send their own module up to the International Space Station. If they do, NASA has made sure that they will have an available docking port. The agency is making the port on the station’s Harmony module available for a commercial habitat to attach to for a limited period of time. Habitats that dock to this port will have access to the station’s utilities, and astronauts could potentially use the module during their stay in space. NASA will soon ask for proposals of habitats that can be attached to Harmony and will make final selections by the end of the fiscal year, according to the space agency.

NASA made today’s announcement at the Nasdaq Marketsite, with representatives of more than a dozen commercial aerospace companies in attendance. And some are already taking NASA up on its new policy. Space habitat developer Bigelow Aerospace, for instance, says it has already booked four private flights of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, and will send up four of its own private astronauts on each mission once the vehicle finally starts carrying people.

And it’s possible that even more opportunities for commercial activities are on their way. NASA executives made it clear that these new policy changes are just the beginning, and that they’re eager to get feedback from the industry. “This is the beginning of us actively starting open dialogue with the industry to figure out how we can open up space to commercial activities, where revenue can be generated from private sector companies,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration.

Update June 7th, 12:45PM ET: This article was updated to include quotes from the press conference, as well as new information from Bigelow Aerospace.

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The International Space Station is disgusting – BGR

The International Space Station is disgusting – BGR

The International Space Station has been home to space travelers for nearly two decades now, and with the current crew of six, there’s been a total of 59 expeditions — or, teams of astronauts from the U.S., Russia, and other countries — since it was put into service. With so many human bodies moving in and out of the spacecraft, it was bound to get a little bit dirty, but a new study of the insides of the ISS reveals just how gross it’s become on a microscopic level.

Using samples from various surfaces, NASA researchers reveal that there’s no shortage of life in the space station, aside from the astronauts themselves. Bacteria and fungi have taken up residence in the spacecraft, and there’s reason to believe that some of them may cause problems down the road.

Humans, generally speaking, aren’t exactly clean. Our bodies are teeming with microorganisms, and the vast majority of them never cause us any problems and may even help us maintain our health. Naturally, many of those same types of microorganisms can be found anywhere that humans spend significant amounts of time, and the ISS is no exception.

However, what researchers are concerned about is how the environment of space may affect the ability of the microscopic organisms to change over time. Microgravity and radiation from space could prompt mutations that might threaten crew members not just on the International Space Station but future long-haul crewed missions as well.

This new study, which was published in Microbiome, used dozens and dozens of surface wipe samples taken from various locations around the space station over the course of 14 months. Locations included overhead panels, bathroom, dining table, and walls.

Dozens of bacteria and fungi were identified in the samples, and many of them were the same types typically found in places like offices and gyms on Earth. Some are considered to be “opportunistic” bacteria, which have the potential to cause health problems.

“Whether these opportunistic bacteria could cause disease in astronauts on the ISS is unknown,” first author Dr. Checinska Sielaff said in a statement. “This would depend on a number of factors, including the health status of each individual and how these organisms function while in the space environment. Regardless, the detection of possible disease-causing organisms highlights the importance of further studies to examine how these ISS microbes function in space.”

Other recent research into the bacteria aboard the ISS suggests that microbes in the space station seem to be adapting to their surroundings rather than mutating for the purposes of infecting the astronauts on board. The study shot down the idea that the ISS was unwittingly breeding “super bugs,” but noted that it’s possible for bacteria in the ISS to cause disease.

Going forward, research like this will be vital in ensuring that long-distance crewed missions to neighboring planets like Mars have the best chance of succeeding, with astronaut health being a top priority.

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