The United States' once dominant space program, NASA, has seen a sharp decline in funding since the retirement of the space shuttle 3 years ago, with a mere 0.48% of the federal budget allocated to space exploration. Not only is this a disappointing change from the days of the Apollo program, where federal funding peaked at 4.41%, but it is also forcing the United States to rely on our former space-exploration rivals, Russia, to gain access to the International Space Station. Currently, NASA is forced to spend nearly $70 million per seat to hitch a ride to the ISS on Russia's Soyuz spacecrafts, an arrangement steeped in tension, given the current political climate between Russia and the US.
In an attempt to free themselves from the excessive costs and constraints of ride-sharing their astronauts into orbit, NASA has announced that it will soon award a private sector space company a multi-billion dollar contract to build spacecrafts. In what is considered a drastic departure in the agency's policy, NASA is essentially looking to rent these privately contracted spacecraft for transportation of astronauts to ISS (and possibly further into space). The positive economic and innovative implications of such an arrangement are numerous and far-reaching, as a direct injection of large sums of money into private sector space programs could usher in an era of commercially available space travel and create economic stimulation in the United States through competing start-up space programs offering affordably priced space travel to astronauts and citizens alike.
At the moment, the field is still small, and only a handful of companies have the resources necessary to build a spacecraft capable of NASA's requirements. The current industry leaders are SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing, who are all chomping at the bit for NASA's generous contractual offer. SpaceX is already using their crafts to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, but have yet to gain the go-ahead to transport humans into space, a process that requires rigorous safety testing, and governmental approval. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors (and now SpaceX) says that their spacecraft is capable of landing back on earth with helicopter-like precision, and that it could transport US astronauts to the ISS for a fraction of the exorbitant fee charged by Russia. Musk estimates the cost per seat at $20 million or less. Staunch SpaceX competitor, Sierra Nevada, has built a plane-like-craft, more similar to the space shuttle than an Apollo pod, which supposedly can be used in excess of 30 times, an alluring option because of its exploratory longevity and runway landing ability. The aviation giant, Boeing, is taking a more commercially influenced stance, funding a number of private space startups in the hopes of cutting launch costs by selling reserved seats in sponsored spacecrafts to private citizens.
Regardless of which, if any, of these companies secure NASA's big money offer, never has it been more evident that the future is upon us. Further advances in space exploration technology will help us regain independence of our space program, and bolster our economy through direct monetary injection and domestic job creation. Before car rentals were an economically viable transportation option, no one thought they would take-off and become a ubiquitous travel necessity, but they did, and they are. Now that NASA is seriously considering spacecraft rentals as a legitimate answer to lackluster government funding, it shouldn't be long before ordinary citizens can reserve their own spot on a journey to space and back.
While Auto Europe doesn't offer spacecraft rentals we do offer car rentals with plenty of space. We'll be keeping an eye out for developments with this story while also covering other exciting scientific advances. In the meantime, while you wait for your shuttle to arrive, Auto Europe invites you to quench your thirst for exploration and travel with a car rental in Paris or any of our 20,000 rental locations scattered across the globe.