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SpaceX opens era of amateur astronauts, cosmic movie sets

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SpaceX opens era of amateur astronauts, cosmic movie sets

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s debut astronaut launch is the biggest, most visible opening shot yet in NASA’s grand plan for commercializing Earth’s backyard.

Amateur astronauts, private space stations, flying factories, out-of-this-world movie sets — this is the future the space agency is striving to shape as it eases out of low-Earth orbit and aims for the moon and Mars.

It doesn’t quite reach the fantasized heights of George Jetson and Iron Man, but still promises plenty of thrills.

“I’m still waiting for my personal jetpack. But the future is incredibly exciting,” NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren said the day before SpaceX’s historic liftoff.

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, who will test drive Boeing’s space capsule next year, envisions scientists, doctors, poets and reporters lining up for rocket rides.

“I see this as a real possibility,” she said. “You’re going to see low-Earth orbit open up.”

The road to get there has never been so crowded, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX company leading the pack.

A week ago, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit, something accomplished by only three countries in nearly 60 years. The flight to the International Space Station returned astronaut launches to the U.S. after nine long years.

“This is hopefully the first step on a journey toward a civilization on Mars,” an emotional Musk told journalists following liftoff.

Closer in time and space is SpaceX’s involvement in a plan to launch Tom Cruise to the space station to shoot a movie in another year or so. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embraces the idea. He wants NASA to be just one of many customers in this new space-traveling era, where private companies own and fly their own spaceships and sell empty seats.

“Kind of a changing of the guard in how we’re going to do human spaceflight in the future,” said Mike Suffredini, a former NASA station program manager who now leads Houston’s Axiom Space company.

Axiom has partnered with SpaceX to launch three customers to the space station in fall 2021. An experienced astronaut will accompany them, serving as the commander-slash-tour guide. Two private flights a year are planned, using completely automated capsules belonging to SpaceX or Boeing, NASA’s two commercial crew providers.

The ticket price — which includes 15 weeks of training and more than a week at the space station — is about $55 million. Besides the three signed up, others have expressed serious interest, Suffredini said.

Since last weekend’s successful launch, “everybody’s starting to wonder where their place in line is,” Suffredini told The Associated Press on Thursday. “That’s a really, really cool position to be in now.”

Space Adventures Inc. of Vienna, Virginia, also has teamed up with SpaceX. Planned for late next year, this five-day-or-so mission would skip the space station and instead orbit two to three times higher for more sweeping views of Earth. The cost: around $35 million. It’s also advertising rides to the space station via Boeing Starliner and Russian Soyuz capsules.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are taking it slower and lower with tourist flights. These space-skimming, up-and-down flights will last minutes, not days, and cost a lot less. Hundreds already have reservations with Virgin Galactic.

Branson is the only one of the three billionaires planning to launch himself before putting customers aboard at $250,000 a pop. His winged rocketship is designed to drop from a customized plane flying over New Mexico.

Blue Origin’s customers will launch on rockets from West Texas; the capsules sport wall-to-ceiling windows, the largest ever built for a spacecraft.

With a Ph.D. in environmental science, Tracey has intricate knowledge about things that have been going around in this particular domain. While working as a professor, she also contributes highly-informative science and environment news for USA Reformer.

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