Gone are the days when space is only meant for military intimidation and a show of superpower. Nowadays, private individuals are able to get launched into space if they can afford it thanks to the rise of private companies like SpaceX and BlueOrigin.
To commemorate the new space era, NASA has recently announced their commercial space station proposals for development which will be joining the earlier proposal by Axiom Space.
The plan is to create the first places that is conducive for humans to live and work in sace outside of the jurisdiction of government-funded space agencies such as NASA itself.
Many believes this is the new dawn that will take humans steps closer to reaching the red planet Mars and even farther planets within the solar system in few years to come.
As of now, there are just two space stations in low Earth orbit both of which belongs to government-funded space agencies. The first is the International Space Station or ISS which has been occupied since the year 2000 while the other is the Chinese Tiangong space station launched back in April 2021.
ISS is however on the verge of reaching the end of its career after almost 30 years in orbit.
The ISS is seen as an important symbol of international cooperation just after the Cold War era which prompted the creation of NASA and even the mission to put the first humans in space.
With many potential private investors planning to pour in cash to build the next-gen space tourism, anyone who just want a different view of the planet can definitely get up there and spend a couple of days.
Space tourism is becoming a thing
This isn’t the first time that NASA will discuss commercializing space as it’s been in discussion for about a decade ago with the development of private cargo services to make deliveries at the ISS.
On the list is SpaceX’s Cargon Dragon, and a host of private space delivery vehicles that take are built to shuttle astronauts into space and even to the Moon in the near future among which are Boeing’s Starliner, and Lockhead Martin’s Orion capsules.
Back in Feb. 2020, Axiom Space got a US$140M contract from NASA for a private module that can be attached to the ISS. The interior designer of the module was Pillpe Starck according to Axiom.
Starck compares it to “a nest, a comfortable and friendly egg”. There’s also a huge viewing area with two-meter-high windows for tourists to look out at Earth and space.
The first of the modules will be delivered to the ISS bvy the year 2024 or 2025 while other modules will be delivered the following year.
By then, ISS will be nearing the end of its life which is slated to take place but he end of the decade – 2030 to be precise and by then, Axioms modules will become a free-flying station.
The company also signed a contract with French-Italian contractor Thales Alenia according to a report with the aim of building 50% of the ISS’s habitable volume for NASA and European Space Agency.
NASA had also selected three other groups for the first phase of its Commercial LEO Destinations competition. The aim is to build free-flying space stations that will replace the ISS.
There is a group that includes companies such as Nanoracks, Voyager Space, and Lockhead Martin with a proposed space station called Starlab – where researches, manufacturing, and tourism can take place.
Then there is another competing project called Orbital Reef – an idea by championed by Blue Origin, Sierra Space, and Boeing while the third one is led by Northrop Grumman which will make modules based on existing Cygnus cargo vehicle.
How crew members are using space stations
There isn’t an absolute answer as to whether the next-gen private space stations will be more habitable for humans in comparison with other space stations such as older Salyut, Mir, and even the outgoing ISS.
The reason for the question is the difference between those who will inhabit the new private space stations compared to the government-funded space stations which were designed to meet engineering constraints rather than being a place of comfort for crew members.
Astronauts are often there to conduct experiments as well as understand the impact pf space on living organisms.
Until recently, scientists never really considered the experience of astronauts in the space station.
One of the recent approach was a data-driven understand of how the crew aboard the ISS adapt to life in a context of confinement, isolation, and microgravity.
Researchers then observe and measure their interactions with built spaces and the objects around them. They also examined their patten of different spaces and even items.
All of the data allows researchers to get a glimpse of information that were never considered during the design of space habitats.
In one of the research result, it was realised that space crewa don’t necessarily make use of the spaces inside the ISS the way they were design.
A good example of such is that they personalized different areas with visual displays of items that reflect their beliefs, interests, and identity.
Also, there wasn’t an equal usage of the spaces within the space station and the differences between genders, nationalities, and space agencies within some modules all contributed to the usage of the space station.
Also these patterns are said to have affected how work is divided between crews and agencies as well as the layout of the modules themselves.
Private space stations will be different
That said, the next-gen private space station could have the much needed luxury to make life in space enjoyable for private citizens and those includes larger windows and better interior that are less cluttered with engineering utilities as seen on the ISS.
Currently, designers and engineers who are well experienced about space vehicle’s design definitely going to make privately-owned space stations much more welcoming to tourists across the globe.
This will further enhance human’s ambitions to reach for the stars and explore the world beyond.
Considering the long distance between Earth and Mars, colonizing space might just be the first step and with other big ambitions such as creating another station on the moon or even a launchpad in Mars in the future, it’s only a matter of time before the human species colonize the entire solar system which according to Elon Musk, people who lived to experience the first man on moon would’ve expected human to now have a space station in Pluto after several decades.
But the cut in funding as well as governments focusing their attentions on other things brought down the ambition which has now been picked up by private enterprises and visionaries who think the human race should be a multiplanetary species.
This article by Justin St. P. Walsh, Associate professor of art history and archaeology, Chapman University and Alice Gorman, Associate Professor in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.