The first commercial contract to fly researchers into space has been signed by the Southwest Research Institute and Virgin Galactic.
The non-profit institute located in San Antonio, Texas has paid deposits for two scientists be hurled into space to conduct experiments including biomedical monitoring and atmospheric imaging. Its plans to eventually book eight seats aboard Virgin’s spacecraft will cost some $1.6 million (press release).
While SwRI is the first to pay deposits for researchers, Virgin Galactic says over 400 individuals have signed up for its space tourism programme.
As these programmes grow increasingly affordable (or at least slightly cheaper than the recent tens of millions going rate) they are expected to become increasingly attractive to researchers.
Last year, Jeff Greason, president of XCOR Aerospace, based in Mojave, California, told Nature, “I think it’s going to shock a lot of people by how transformative it is when access to space becomes like a laboratory instrument, when it becomes something you just go out and do. The immediacy of being able to do science live from space every day of the week is going to be spectacular.” (See: Final frontier beckons for researchers.)
Image: photo by Mark Greenberg