Jim Oberg reports that NASA is preparing to approve year-long stays aboard the International Space Station, a move that would open up tourism seats aboard Soyuz transport vehicles:
NASA will shortly announce plans to double the mission duration of some astronaut expeditions to the International Space Station, NBC News has learned. Beginning as early as 2015, some of the astronauts and cosmonauts sent into orbit will remain there not the usual six months, but for a full year.
In Houston last week, NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries acknowledged that the project was under study but said it was still only a proposal. “All we can say is that we are exploring possibilities,” he said in an Aug. 21 email. “There have been no formal decisions made, and it is premature to speculate what the outcome might be.”
But sources familiar with NASA’s plans say the preparations for such a mission are much more advanced than this description suggests. Specific mission dates and crew candidates are already being assessed. The sources discussed the plans on condition of anonymity because they were not yet due to be announced publicly.
The planned missions would allow for studies of how the human body reacts to long exposure to microgravity. This will assist planners for future deep space missions.
The longer stays would also allow the Russians to sell the third seat on Soyuz replacement vehicles to wealthy clients. To date, there have been eight flights by seven millionauts, the last occurring in December 2009.
The flights were stopped after the retirement of the space shuttle fleet. All seats on the Russian Soyuz vehicles are required to maintain a complement of six astronauts aboard the space station.
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