Pioneering private space explorer Anousheh Ansari welcomes ISS commercialization

Xprize CEO and Prodea founder Anousheh Ansari dreamed of being an astronaut as a child growing up in Iran, but, understandably, most people around her were skeptical about her ambitions. Yet in 2006, she made that dream come true when she became the first woman to visit the International Space Station as a privately funded citizen (as well as the first Iranian citizen and the first Muslim woman), traveling aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket as a trained and paying guest of the Russian Space Agency.
At the time, NASA wasn’t thrilled about the idea and definitely did not want Ansari to pay a visit. Thirteen years later, the U.S. space agency announced earlier this week that the ISS is officially “open for business,” and revealed that pricing for a night’s stay will be around $35,000 per person (that’s just lodging — you still have to figure out your own transportation). At a Creative Destruction Lab event in Toronto this week, I spoke to Ansari about what this milestone announcement means for commercial space interests, and her perspective on the field and opportunity for space-focused startups in general.
“Actually, I wish I had my laptop to I could show a slide from probably six, seven years ago, maybe even longer, which I used that said ‘ISS for rent. It’s coming true! I’m telling you, I can predict the future,” Ansari joked. “But I think it makes so much sense.”
Pioneering private space explorer Anousheh Ansari welcomes ISS commercialization

There are a number of reasons the situation has changed regarding how NASA views commercial and private interest in visiting and using the space station. Not least of which is that the station has now aged beyond its original mission parameters, and is definitely nearing its true functional end of life.
“The space station is […] already on extended life right now,” Ansari said. “So now they can generate revenue from, make good use of the space station [beyond its intended mission] so they can invest in the next generation.”
Even if its original, official mission is technically ended, there’s a lot of advantage that private companies can still derive from the facility in the interim.
“There’s so much interest in doing research and experimentation on board the space station, I think the cost is incredibly low,” she added, referring to the pricing quoted in NASA’s guidelines for private astronauts. “I mean, there’s still the cost of access, which will mean it’s not affordable for everyone. But renting the space station for $35,000 a night and doing experiments. It’s incredible.”
“I think there will be a lot of companies, a lot of, you know, pharma, medical and health companies will definitely take advantage of that and do experiments,” Ansari continued. “And, and I’m excited. I’m glad it’s happening.”
Pioneering private space explorer Anousheh Ansari welcomes ISS commercialization
PLAYA VISTA, CALIFORNIA – MAY 15: (L-R) Anousheh Ansari, CEO, XPRIZE, Peter Diamandis, Founder & Executive Chairman, XPRIZE and Emily Church, Executive Director of the Global Learning, XPRIZE attend the Global Learning XPRIZE Foundation Grand-prize Awards at Google Playa Vista Office on May 15, 2019 in Playa Vista, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Global Learning XPRIZE)
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