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NASA Looks to Private Sector for Future of Space Flight


Many companies are capitalizing on the future of space travel thanks to an evolving partnership with the U.S. space agency, NASA.

Forty-six years after NASA first put a man on the moon, much as changed about space flight, said NASA official William Gerstenmaier.

“There’s a tremendous new environment out there where it’s no longer just the government doing this. The private sector wants to do this. So my job on the government side is how do I figure out how to team with this private sector that has this quickness, has this entrepreneurial spirit; that I can team and use that with the government side to actually move us forward,” he said.

NASA and some of the players in the private sector met at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles to discuss the future of space exploration.

Space tourism

Naveen Jain, co-founder of the aerospace company Moon Express, has high hopes that space tourism will explode. “If you’re getting married or getting engaged, why give someone a diamond. If you love her enough you’ll give her the moon,” Jain added.

But traveling to the moon may not be viable at this time, said Lockheed Martin’s Michael Hawes.

“I think it is somewhat still science fiction, but mostly not because it can’t technically be done,” he explained. “But I don’t see the market place evolving for that as quickly as some do.”

International Space Station

Work is being done on future travel to deep space. Hawes notes that NASA has conducted a successful test flight of Orion, its next-generation spacecraft, which will eventually explore the moon and beyond. NASA also is looking to private industry to service the International Space Station.

“So they have a couple of companies providing cargo. They have a couple companies that are been contracted to provide crew in the future,” said Hawes.

NASA is also looking to the private sector for space travel research that can have benefits on earth too.

They include advances in technologies, such as miniature cameras on cell phones, and finding solutions to health problems in space, which can also help the people on Earth.

Contributing to medical research

“What we see in space is the human body, for some reason there’s tremendous bone loss: On the order of 20-to-30 percent of your bones can be lost per month in space if you don’t do any kind of physical exercise. That occurs in our elderly population,” said NASA's Gerstenmaier.

Boeing’s John Elbon said the research opportunities are exciting but solving space-related problems takes time.

“In a hundred years from now, there will be a commercial space industry that you can’t imagine today what it will be like based on kind of where we are now," he said. "We have to be careful not to lose sight of how difficult these things are. At the same time, we can’t lose the enthusiasm that there’s going to be a heck of a lot opportunity in front of us."

And, space experts say, that opportunity could even lead to colonizing Mars.

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