House committee takes skeptical view of ISS commercialization plans


WASHINGTON — A month after NASA rolled out a strategy to increase commercial use of the International Space Station, some in Congress are skeptical of the effort.

At a July 10 hearing of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, some members suggested that allowing commercial activities on the station, including visits by private astronauts, wasn’t an appropriate use for the facility as NASA prepares to return humans to the moon and go on to Mars.

“We need to ensure that those resources are focused on those tasks that can only be done by the ISS and that are a high priority,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the full committee, in opening remarks at the hearing. “We will be taking a close look at NASA’s proposed commercialization initiative to see whether it meets that standard. At this point, I’m not convinced that it does.”

She cited as one example hosting private astronauts, like space tourists, on the station. “I’m skeptical that sending wealthy space tourists to ISS is the best or even a good use of a taxpayer-funded facility,” she said, contrasting it with NASA’s desire to perform research to reduce human health risks of long-duration spaceflight. “Our focus should be on sending additional crewmembers or researchers to the station, not well-heeled individuals seeking an exotic vacation.”

Bill Gerstenmaier, in his final public appearance as NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations before being reassigned to a special advisor position later the same day, noted that the new commercialization strategy allocates only five percent of ISS resources to commercial activities.