NASA Hopes Commercialization Helps Fund Its Trip Back to the Moon

June 7, 2019

By Taylor Craig

With its sights set on a return to the moon, NASA announced Friday that it will sell time and space aboard the International Space Station to private companies for the very first time.

“This is a momentous day for, not only NASA and the space economy, but honestly for U.S. industry as a whole,” said the space agency’s CFO Jeff DeWit.

The plan is to start off with two private flights per year. DeWit says companies are already securing seats with SpaceX and Boeing for a booked private flight to the ISS.

“This is great for the U.S. economy, and it shows the American taxpayers that NASA is using their money well,” DeWit told Cheddar from the NASDAQ MarketSite.

NASA works with over 50 companies right now that test or manufacture products in space. 20 were in attendance at Friday’s announcement.

DeWit explained that the zero gravity environment in space can be beneficial for making retinas that could allow blind people to see, for instance. He explains that retinas can’t be manufactured on Earth because gravity causes the materials to collapse onto themselves.

“There’s so many uses up in space and that’s what we wanna do right now is use these American resources to spur the American economy, and use that extra revenue now to go further in space, get back to the moon and go to Mars,” DeWit said, setting a lunar deadline for 2024.

While private astronauts will now be allowed aboard the ISS (at an estimated $58 million a seat), DeWit envisions that within decades companies will be building small space stations for private use.

“If there was a space ETF, I would expect it would be up very, very large today,” DeWit said.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jeff: This is, this is a, a,

Jeff: a momentous day for not only NASA

Jeff: and for the space economy but honestly

Jeff: for US industry as a whole,

Jeff: which is why we chose to do it at the Nasdaq market site.

Jeff: There is no better venue to come and show, uh,

Jeff: that the International Space Station is now

Jeff: basically open for business for US companies to,

Jeff: uh, to come up, uh, to manufacturer and to,

Jeff: to now, uh, bring

Jeff: private astronauts aboard the space station.

Jeff: So, it's a big day. It's a big announcement.

MALE_1: Let's get the price tags here.

MALE_1: How much is it gonna to cost me to get to the moon?

Jeff: Uh, to go to the moon?

Jeff: Right now we're talking low earth orbit.

Jeff: So the space station, uh, [OVERLAPPING]

MALE_1: Oh, space station and then eventually the moon though.

Jeff: Eventually the Moon? I'd love

Jeff: to see it expand to the moon.

Jeff: Uh, We are going back to the moon.

Jeff: The, the goal is by 2024, uh-

MALE_1: [OVERLAPPING] But you have to an astronaut to

MALE_1: be go to the moon. You can't just be a private.

FEMALE_1: [OVERLAPPING] You can be a private astronaut now.

FEMALE_1: I mean this is one of the things, right?

FEMALE_1: And by the end of the year,

FEMALE_1: you want to have at least, uh,

FEMALE_1: maybe two potential of these commercial flights with

FEMALE_1: private astronauts about a dozen

FEMALE_1: or so a year, right Jeff?

Jeff: Yeah, we're gonna have two a year to start

Jeff: out with and we,

Jeff: we want to expand the program, uh,

Jeff: as much as the demand allows.

Jeff: And so, uh, we're trying to drive

Jeff: that demand right now to bring

Jeff: commercial companies onboard.

Jeff: There are a lot of uses that, uh, uh,

Jeff: of commercial companies to produce and

Jeff: manufacture things in space from,

Jeff: uh, retinas that, uh, that can allow blind people to see.

Jeff: There are companies that when they try to

Jeff: produce these fine of quality and,

Jeff: and thin retinas on earth,

Jeff: they collapse in on themselves but they can be produced,

Jeff: uh, in no gravity.

Jeff: So, um, there are uses from,

Jeff: uh, fiber optic lines

Jeff: that are, that are much higher quality.

Jeff: So there's so many uses

Jeff: up in space and that's what we want to do now is,

Jeff: is use these American resources to

Jeff: spur the American economy, uh, and,

Jeff: and, and use that extra revenue

Jeff: now to go further in space,

Jeff: get back to the moon and, and go on to Mars.

FEMALE_1: And this idea that you have

FEMALE_1: to sort of do business in a different way,

FEMALE_1: uh, and, and sending and opening

FEMALE_1: up capabilities to private companies.

FEMALE_1: You mentioned I think the answer to my question,

FEMALE_1: which is that is this about creating jobs in America?

Jeff: This is absolutely about creating jobs in America.

Jeff: The space economy is growing, it's vibrant.

Jeff: Um, there are over 5,000

Jeff: US companies and small businesses right now that,

Jeff: uh, do business with NASA in one, one form or another.

Jeff: Uh, and this is gonna not only expand what

Jeff: those companies can do but bring

Jeff: other companies into the fold.

Jeff: Uh, if there was a space ETF,

Jeff: I expect it would be a,

Jeff: uh, very very large today.

Jeff: So this is great for the US economy and it shows

Jeff: American taxpayers that NASA is using their money well.

MALE_1: What is the space race of 2019 and who does it involve?

Jeff: Well, the space race right now,

Jeff: is getting back to the moon.

Jeff: It's the Artemis mission that we'll return, uh, uh,

Jeff: not only the next man but the first woman to

Jeff: the lunar surface by 2024.

Jeff: Uh, and then it's on to Mars.

Jeff: The next space race after that will be getting to Mars.

Jeff: And so, um, this is,

Jeff: this are all things that enable us to get there.

FEMALE_1: All right. And there's a lot of excitement not only in

FEMALE_1: the travel side of

FEMALE_1: this business and we know there are

FEMALE_1: smaller companies that are already looking to do that.

FEMALE_1: And bigger ones too like Blue Origin right,

FEMALE_1: trying to send some of these private citizens.

FEMALE_1: Uh, but then also the capabilities

FEMALE_1: of research and development.

FEMALE_1: Now, that's a big part of why you wanna send

FEMALE_1: private astronauts and

FEMALE_1: also commercial astronauts into space.

FEMALE_1: You mentioned some of the, uh,

FEMALE_1: you know, research already being done there.

FEMALE_1: But why is it better to do some of

FEMALE_1: this research in space rather than here on Earth?

Jeff: Like I said, it's that,

Jeff: it's that no gravity environment that

Jeff: allows for different manufacturing processes

Jeff: that you just cannot do on Earth.

Jeff: And, and there are things of such,

Jeff: such high and find tolerances,

Jeff: um, that this opens it up.

Jeff: And what you're going to see down the road,

Jeff: 10 or 20 years from now,

Jeff: as these technologies are proven and it shows

Jeff: that the manufacturing and space for

Jeff: these specific industries, uh,

Jeff: work very well, you will then

Jeff: see private companies start to put,

Jeff: put up and they've already have some

Jeff: of the drawing boards to put up their own,

Jeff: uh, smaller versions of

Jeff: a space station in order to do the manufacturing.

Jeff: So what we're allowing them to do is to prove

Jeff: those technologies [NOISE] and prove that

Jeff: manufacturing on the space station,

Jeff: uh, so they can then go and market

Jeff: these opportunities on a bigger scale down the road.

FEMALE_1: And there's going to be a lot of

FEMALE_1: supporting industries that may be coming up.

FEMALE_1: I know you're already recruiting or at least

FEMALE_1: having an open call for companies,

FEMALE_1: individuals for marketing ideas,

FEMALE_1: uh, a- a- as well.

FEMALE_1: Wha- what are some other industries outside

FEMALE_1: maybe marketing that you can see

FEMALE_1: being supported by this initiative?

Jeff: Well, the interesting thing right now with

Jeff: private astronauts is, um,

Jeff: they could, you could see movie, uh,

Jeff: movie producers put astronauts up in space.

Jeff: You might see game shows,

Jeff: where the winner goes up into space.

Jeff: Um, the other thing is the pharmaceutical sector

Jeff: has a big big interest in producing

Jeff: some of the very very high tolerance pharmaceuticals

Jeff: up in space that just can't get the,

Jeff: the, the tolerances they want, uh,

Jeff: down on Earth and so, um, there are a lot of uses.

Jeff: We, we have over 50 US companies already to do business,

Jeff: uh, manufacturing and testing in space,

Jeff: and 20 of them were here today for

Jeff: that announcement and are very

Jeff: excited and we've already heard there are some, uh,

Jeff: some deals coming in right

Jeff: now where they're starting to lock up

Jeff: these seats with SpaceX and Boeing

Jeff: to get their astronauts up to the space station.