Where do you go when there is no place left to go? NASA has a great idea. Join them in Space. This week NASA asked us, fellow tax payers, to consider what we would you do if NASA made a port available for you to connect to the International Space Station (ISS). This is a big thought experiment. Have you been dreaming about a second home in Alaska? I’m dreaming about it right now. Heat waves make me a delirious. But this is the real thing. NASA has a place for new tenants on the space station. Think about what it would be like. It’s a thought experiment for now. What would you do with this opportunity? First take a look. Go to NASA.gov and click on the International Space Station. Then search the NASA website www.NASA.gov for RFI Advancing Economic Development in Low Earth Orbit.
This week I spoke to Bill Gersentmaier, the head of this program at NASA, he was still excited about what might come from this new announcement. He is coming back to the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. When NASA asks the public for input on really big ideas, they issue a Request for Information or an RFI. This latest RFI is called Advancing Economic Development in Low Earth Orbit. There are two companies that are thinking about this right now, Bigelow Aerospace and Axion Space. Both are very serious contenders to take this slot on Node 3. Right now, Bigelow Aerospace’s current test module is attached to this port. I wrote about this module after I came back from watching Space X launch it to the ISS in April. In two years, when the Bigelow module is removed from the ISS, someone else or even Bigelow may want to put another module on the station. Why not you? Or your friends, lots of them.
A thought experiment is more than a day dream, less than a concrete plan. Humans, we think, are the only species that can visualize and plan something as complex as a 4th of July fireworks display. These events usually start as a thought experiment and move to the planning stage, pretty soon there is a budget discussion. But for now, just imagine. NASA has no money to put into this project yet.
A test module is a laboratory space in space. Picture a camper trailer, or travel RV. People live in these vehicles and travel. The Bigelow Experimental Activity Module (BEAM) is a lab space where Mr. Bigelow’s team is evaluating the amount of radiation that penetrates the structure, as well as micro meteor strikes. He believes the material on BEAM is safer than the metallic cans that comprise the space station. After his team gathers data for two years, the BEAM will be released from Node 3 which frees it up for the next user. Node 3 is the address for the BEAM. Like your street and house number. There is a very cool video of the BEAM and it’s location on Node 3 at BigelowAerospace.com click on BEAM. You can learn about all the experiments Mr. Bigelow is running at this site.
NASA wants to know, what could be done with this opportunity. Think big. This is a thought experiment. We can keep doing what we’ve been doing since the Russians launched the first space station in 1971 or we can think outside the can. The ISS is made of aluminum. Mr. Gerstenmaier wants to know if this opportunity may start discussions he has not heard before.
The RFI uses language that is a not common. For example, when NASA refers to life support systems, they are referring to the systems on station that support humans. In our conversations he said this is like getting prime real estate in Manhattan with all the utilities. Water, power, food, air, all of those things we need to sustain life are shared. NASA will supply power, and you then would contract with companies to bring your food and water to station. Commercial companies like SpaceX, or Orbital ATK, supply the station regularly. There are two upcoming resupply missions scheduled. One by the Russians on Saturday, July 16th, and another by SpaceX scheduled to dock on July 18th. ISS is a #busy place in space.
This is like it was in the west. People established an outpost, then relied on the supply wagons, and supply trains to keep them going. Why did people colonize the west? There are hundreds of stories I’ve heard. The point is, we colonize. Why did you come to the west? I came to learn. I still love it here, and learn every day. Right now I am learning how to keep a sense of humor with this heat. Think about someplace really cool. Think space.