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The Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise spacecraft prepares to make it's first public landing during the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony near Las Cruces, New Mexico on October 22, 2010.
With NASA’s last shuttle mission coming to a close, we reach the finish line of the space race which began between Russia and the U.S. in the Cold War. But don’t fret too long, because the next space race is already taking off. As NASA relinquishes its grip on human space exploration, other companies are stepping up to the plate to try and capitalize on the wide open markets for research and tourism, which some estimate will be worth $700 million annually by 2021. For instance, tickets for space tourism have already been sold to certain wealthy buyers for anywhere between $95,000 and $200,000. But these eccentric millionaires can’t be sent up on their own, they will need to be accompanied by commercial space workers. These non-NASA astronauts will be trained by independent companies licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration for private space training, such as NASTAR. Compared to NASA’s rigorous training program which lasts for two years, NASTAR grants a certificate for space training in three days. Will these commercial astronauts be as adept in space as NASA astronauts? What does the training process entail? How close are we to legitimate space tourism? Beyond the tourist thrills, will there be any scientific payback to this new era of space exploration?
Tony Dokoupil, Staff Writer, Newsweek
Brian Shiro, President of Astronauts for Hire, a nonprofit aiming to train the first class of independent commercial astronauts