- Press Release
- Oct 6, 2022
Testimony by W. Michael Hawes on “Space Tourism” Before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
Statement of W. Michael Hawes
Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Station
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
Committee on Science
House of Representatives
June 26, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today about the appropriate government role in supporting space tourism and the flight of non-governmental space
travelers on government assets including the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). NASA and our international partners recently accommodated the visit of one such traveler
to the ISS. This event, coupled with emphasis in recent years on space commercialization and new space launch vehicle technologies, has fed growing interest, both within NASA and outside the
agency, in the potential of the space tourism market. NASA’s mission to explore space remains central, but as we resolve a variety of safety, policy, economic, technology, and legal issues,
NASA also remains committed to opening up the space frontier for commercial purposes including tourism.
This commitment is reflected in NASA’s strategic planning documents, which stipulate near-term goals of advocating policy and conducting legislative and engineering actions to facilitate
privately-funded commercial space development, as well as providing appropriate NASA support for public space travel. We are adhering to these plans and expect that our continuing efforts to
reduce launch costs and improve the capabilities and accessibility of the ISS will help lower market barriers and enable the commercial space sector.
Regarding the International Space Station in particular, I believe it is important to convey to you the pride that all of the ISS partners have in our efforts to build this world-class research
facility. At the same time, Mr. Dennis Tito’s visit demonstrates that the ISS is potentially a prime destination for space tourists, so there clearly is a need to engage in policy discussions over
the proper use of this international resource and strategies for balancing the interests of the public and private sectors. NASA looks forward to engaging in this debate, but we also have a deep
respect for the difficulty of assembling and operating the ISS and are committed to ensuring the safety of the crew and the vehicle. The challenge before NASA, the Administration, our
International Partners, Congress, other government agencies, and the aerospace and tourism industries is to work together to enable space tourism and maximize its economic benefits without
compromising in any way the safety of the general public or space travelers, whether professional astronauts, researchers, or commercial passengers.
U.S. Government Policies and NASA’s Role Regarding Space Tourism
NASA’s policy on space tourism is derived from the broader context of space commercialization. In particular, NASA is chartered by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as
amended, to “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.” The U.S. government’s commitment to promoting space commercialization has been
reaffirmed in other documents including the National Space Transportation Policy, issued in 1994, the National Space Policy, issued in 1996, the Commercial Space Act of 1998, and the NASA
Strategic Plan 2000.
Given the evolving nature and growing significance of space commercialization, NASA has assigned responsibility for coordinating and updating its commercial space policy, including space
tourism issues, to the Chief of Staff Mr. Courtney Stadd. Although we are still in the process of formulating a specific agency strategic plan for space commercialization, a number of general
goals are clear.
First, recognizing NASA’s mission to advance human exploration, use, and development of space, it is essential that we help to increase the scale and diversity of commercial activity in space.
NASA will give priority in utilizing its resources for commercial activities, granted that safety and NASA mission success are in no way compromised. NASA will endeavour to reduce or remove
barriers to space commerce by improving our responsiveness to the private sector, and focusing our investments on the types of research which are not provided commercially.
NASA will also establish selection criteria for prioritizing private sector requests to use NASA resources, and emphasize activities that advance NASA’s mission consistent with national policy
and direction from Congress. This may include encouraging commercial education and outreach activities, and potentially providing space flight opportunities for persons other than career
astronauts. Finally, NASA will work proactively to ensure a more supportive, transparent, and predictable regulatory environment for commercial space activities.
NASA’s role in enabling space tourism is not limited to policy-making, but also includes the sponsorship of feasibility studies and the continuing development of critical technologies.
NASA-sponsored space tourism studies, conducted for years in collaboration with industry and non-government organizations, have included detailed market research analyses and helped lay the
groundwork for solid strategies to make future progress. These studies include a Commercial Space Transportation Study completed in 1994 by an aerospace industry alliance in cooperation with
NASA, a Commercial Space Business Park study conducted by Boeing for NASA and the ISS program in 1997, and a General Public Space Travel and Tourism study completed in 1999 by NASA
and the Space Transportation Association.
These analyses are a valuable resource in ongoing policy discussions. For example, they have characterized the demand elasticity of the space tourism market, identified the need for
order-of-magnitude reductions in operating costs in order to contain business risks, advanced the notion of the ISS as a commercial incubator providing common infrastructure to a variety of
business interests, and offered a number of recommendations, some of which have already been incorporated into NASA policy or legislation such as the Commercial Space Act of 1998.
But NASA’s primary focus is on technology research and development, and beyond the policy realm, we continue to assess options for applying current and future space systems to commercial
markets including space tourism. In particular, it is clear that the cost of space access must be lowered dramatically to realize the full potential of the space tourism market and commercial
space endeavors in general. As such, NASA will continue to address the need for affordable, safe, and reliable space transportation through our Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP) and
the Space Launch Initiative (SLI). We are also committed to the ISS program and recognize that it creates an opportunity to offer a viable and compelling space destination for tourists arriving
via spacecraft, regardless of origin.
Non-governmental Travelers on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station
Following the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986, NASA instituted a policy, as documented in the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR 1214.300), which suspended the flight of
non-astronaut, non-payload specialist personnel aboard the Space Shuttle. This was done so that NASA could devote its attention to proving the Shuttle system’s capability for safe, reliable
operation. NASA indicated that once this was accomplished, resumption of such flight opportunities would be considered.
Consideration of new policies to accommodate non-government travelers on the Space Shuttle or the ISS would need to address questions of potential reimbursement for costs incurred by NASA
or its International Partners. Such a discussion would also need to address a widely-held view that the U.S. government should avoid competition with U.S. commercial space tourism ventures.
Alternatively, as alluded to in the Commercial Space Act of 1998, policy options also exist to pursue the full privatization of the Space Shuttle. If this happens, the focus of policy discussions
would shift from the criteria for private use of government assets to one of regulation over a new and self-sustaining industry.
NASA’s development of policies to govern space tourists on the ISS in particular has been accelerated as a result of Mr. Tito’s flight in April. Reflecting the fact that the ISS is still being
assembled and has had full-time crew aboard for less than a year and that ISS commercialization is still in its early stages, these policies prior to Mr. Tito’s flight did not fully address all potential
types of enterprises. Instead their focus was on the use of space to develop commercial products, rather than to promote space tourism. Nevertheless, NASA had established policies on pricing
and intellectual property rights protection, identified a single agency point of contact for accommodating commercial entities, and declared a commitment to reserve 30% of the U.S. share of
ISS utilization resources and accommodations for commercial use. NASA has also been working to establish a non-governmental organization to manage ISS utilization most effectively for
public and private uses.
As early as September 2000, my ISS partner counterparts and I acknowledged that in the future, the ISS partnership would need to develop crew selection and training criteria for
non-professionals travelling to the ISS in the post-assembly phase of the program. However, a series of events promulgated the need to expedite the development of such criteria. In the course
of the first few months of 2001, NASA was able to develop a well-defined template that addressed crew training and selection requirements that accommodated not only professionally trained
astronauts, but others along a continuum such as payload specialists, commercial researchers, media/entertainment representatives, and tourists. In parallel, intense and extensive consultations
occurred among all the ISS partners to address the Russian Aviation and Space Agency’s (Rosaviakosmos) proposal to fly a non-professional crewmember to the ISS in April 2001.
As a result, on April 24, 2001, the ISS partnership achieved consensus on the flight of a non-professional crewmember on a commercial basis aboard the Soyuz 2 Taxi flight to the ISS by
granting an exemption. This decision was documented by a statement signed by all ISS partners which outlined the background, process, and conditions for granting an exemption for the flight
of a non-professional to the ISS. Specific conditions for granting the exemption were discussed with Rosaviakosmos officials and presented in writing. These conditions included commitments
from Rosaviakosmos and Mr. Tito that in the interest of safety, he abide by standard flight rules and the ISS Crew Code of Conduct; undergo on-orbit safety training; restrict his activities
onboard the ISS to mitigate shortfalls in his training; and that the ISS crew reduce its operational activities during the Soyuz crew visit as an added measure of protection. Additionally, Mr. Tito
agreed to release NASA of any liability in connection to his stay aboard the ISS, and Rosaviakosmos agreed to indemnify the other ISS partners for any damage to equipment arising from Mr.
Tito’s flight activity. All conditions were satisfied during Mr. Tito’s stay aboard the ISS, and fortunately no injuries or breaches of safety occurred.
The events surrounding Mr. Tito’s flight to the ISS have been amply covered in the media and I do not plan to review a chronology of all the various steps by the various players. As with any
precedent setting activity like the ISS, real life scenarios occur that were not originally envisioned. Yet as our experience with the ISS grows, we will be operating a world class facility that has
benefited greatly from the experience, knowledge and expertise of space-faring nations around the world. Given that the ISS is a long-term program requiring continual improvement, I believe it
is productive and important to place on the record the following lessons learned from this recent experience.
First, NASA and all the ISS international partners view safety as the primary focus. Any person coming to the ISS either as visiting crew or as an expedition crew member must be adequately
trained according to an agreed upon set of criteria to ensure the health and safety of the onboard crew members as well as the ISS. Space is a serious business and the infancy stage of the ISS
requires a significant level of activity by all crewmembers on a daily basis. An untrained tourist in such an environment may potentially disrupt routine operations or even introduce hazards to
him-or-herself and others.
Second, the ISS program is an international partnership regulated by governmental agreements that lay out the roles and responsibilities of each partner. The agreements have specific
provisions regarding ISS crew and decisions are made, whenever possible, through consensus. The ISS International Partners were unified in their resolve that they all should follow the
provisions of the various agreements and make use of existing agency level programmatic mechanisms to reach consensus on the Russian proposal to fly a non-professional astronaut to the ISS.
A significant condition for achieving consensus was unanimous agreement that a non-professional astronaut would not fly to the ISS until specific crew selection and training criteria had been
adopted by all the ISS partners. NASA and its international partners are in the process of finalizing an agreed upon set of crew selection and training criteria that will facilitate non-professional
astronauts flying to the ISS.
Throughout this episode, we at NASA tried to strike a balance between respecting our safety lessons of the past and preparing for the possibility of more space commercialization in the future.
We at NASA believe that while space flight is a wonderful adventure and potentially both fun and profitable, maintaining safety is our top priority and we must remain forever vigilant.
Accordingly, ISS and Space Shuttle crews, ground control teams, and engineers continue to concentrate on the important task at hand, building the International Space Station.
Looking ahead, NASA managers including myself are building upon this experience to develop policies which will preserve a clear and stable regulatory environment for space tourism and guide
our long-term Space Station commercialization efforts. All the ISS international partners recognize the economic potential that the ISS offers and are ready to capitalize on this investment.
NASA recognizes the interest outside the agency in pursuing a variety of visions for space commercialization, including a view of the ISS as an incubator and host for a mixture of research,
tourism, and other enterprises. We will continue to monitor these developments, recognizing that the choices we make today will help us determine which visions are viable. The opportunities
are limited only by our creativity – yet we will always proceed in a manner that is safe and in accordance with our international agreements.
Since mankind first ventured into space four decades ago, our ability to support life in that hostile environment has made tremendous progress. NASA’s human space flight program has gained
valuable experience in building and operating spacecraft, and refined our understanding of how humans adapt to the space environment. In response, we have developed and improved medical
countermeasures, life support systems, and other technologies required to reduce the unknowns and achieve a sustainable, robust, and safe operational environment for any inhabitant in our
However, space travel is not routine and continues to pose significant risk. In order to carry out our responsibility to ensure the well-being of the general public and our astronauts, NASA
maintains and will continue to maintain strict design and operational safety requirements, including criteria for the selection, training, and certification of Space Shuttle and ISS crew members.
These requirements and precautions still need to be carefully controlled, even as we welcome opportunities for space tourism.
As long as safety is not compromised, NASA will continue to support policies and technology development to enable commercial space tourism. In the near-term, clarification is needed
regarding the proper use of the ISS and the degree to which this international resource should accommodate commercial opportunities in general and space tourism in particular. Looking to the
future, the largest long-term hurdle to a sustainable space tourism market is probably the high cost of access to space, and NASA will continue to work with industry to address this challenge.
Realizing the full promise of commercial space tourism is an evolutionary process. NASA, in concert with our ISS international partners, will complete a step in the process later this summer
when we finalize the formal criteria for the selection, training, and certification of ISS crew, including non-professional civilian members. NASA looks forward to engaging in these and broader
space commercialization discussions with this Committee, as well as other stakeholders in government, industry, and academia.