The International Space Station.

NASA to companies: Please tell us your wildest business ideas for space

As NASA prepares to stop funding the International Space Station in about a decade, the agency is inviting companies to use the science lab to test their wildest space-business ideas while they still can.

As NASA prepares to stop funding the International Space Station (ISS) in about a decade, the agency is appealing to companies to use the science lab to test their wildest space-business ideas while they still can. Eventually, NASA hopes that low Earth orbit will become a hub of commercial activity, with enterprises operating in space independently of the ISS.

“NASA is interested in what exciting, new ideas people have for using the ISS that could lead to space being just another place to go to work or school,” NASA said in a request for information in July.

In response, 11 submissions “from a broad range of respondents including individuals, small companies and large companies,” came in, said Sam Scimemi, division director for the ISS program, in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

While the nature of the ideas has not been made public, some of the research already taking place aboard the ISS might offer some clues. Merck, Novartis, and Procter & Gamble are among the companies that have taken advantage of the microgravity environment of the space station to do drug research. Another company has tested the effects of low gravity on alloys, or metals that are used extensively on Earth in car parts, golf clubs, electronics, and medical devices.

Just a few of weeks ago, a research lab developed by Texas-based private company NanoRacks was attached to the space station with two experiments on board. One, sent up by a company called Yosemite Space, is testing how computer chips can be used in future space missions to power autonomous vehicles and data processing.

"What I really hope is what we’re doing with these early commercial researchers, there will one day be way more than the ISS can handle,” Michael Read, who manages National Lab, an economic development program of the ISS, told The Christian Science Monitor in January.

The ISS is well-suited to research in areas like health to materials sciences, and as a testbed for technologies that could be used for missions deeper into space. But there could be other possibilities that NASA hasn’t even considered, the agency says.

“Some companies are asking to use the ISS as a stepping stone for other, more ‘out-of-the box’ concepts, such as future space stations that are commercially owned and operated,” NASA says on its blog. “Whether a commercial space station is a hotel, a research facility, a university, or a combination of all of these ideas is open for discussion.”

A space hotel is not out of the realm of possibility. Tourists delivered to space by Blue Origin, a space tourism company owned by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, might one day need somewhere to stay. The company has said that it could start shooting paying passengers into space as early as 2018

NASA, in the meantime, is scheduled to leave the space station by 2028. As the primary funder, the agency is spending $3 billion annually to run the 16-year-old science laboratory orbiting Earth 240 miles up in the air. That expense is expected to rise to $4 billion by 2020, according to ArsTechnica. NASA is promising a crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s, and it cannot afford to support both the space station and a deep-space mission, William Gerstenmaier, the agency’s chief of human spaceflight, said last year.

“We’re going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can,” Mr. Gerstenmaier said at a December meeting, as ArsTechnica reported. “Whether it gets filled in by the private sector or not, NASA’s vision is we’re trying to move out.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to NASA to companies: Please tell us your wildest business ideas for space
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today