NASA announced a plan to fly astronauts and other personnel on future commercial suborbital spaceflights on 23 June. The agency has created a new office called the Suborbital Crew (SubC) whose goal is to perform a system qualification, or safety assessment, to enable NASA astronauts, principal investigators, and other NASA personnel to take advantage of these unique capabilities.
"We’ve seen how industry can develop innovative crew transportation systems that meet NASA’s safety requirements and standards. Now we’ll be looking at a new way of enabling NASA personnel to fly on commercial suborbital space systems by considering factors such as flight experience and flight history", said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters.
NASA said private space companies are preparing to offer suborbital space flights as a service and noted that it wants to be a buyer. The companies in question are Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which is working on its first mission with a reusable rocket and capsule system called New Shepard, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
The latter inked a partnership deal with NASA this week on private space missions to the International Space Station. Under the agreement Virgin Galactic will look for individuals interested in purchasing tickets to the ISS, prepare them for the mission, and provide a suitable transportation. There has been no information on the timeline, requirements, and cost of the future space trips.