Jan 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Future of Spaceflight Could Rest in the Hands of the Private Sector

May 07, 2015 06:47 PM EDT

NASA is increasing its reliance on the private sector for its space exploration endeavors and many companies are now capitalizing on the future of space travel thanks to an evolving partnership with U.S. space agency.

It's been forty-six years since NASA first put a man on the moon, but much has changed about space flight, NASA official William Gerstenmaier said.

"There's a tremendous new environment out there where it's no longer just the government doing this. The private sector wants to do this. So my job on the government side is how do I figure out how to team with this private sector that has this quickness, has this entrepreneurial spirit; that I can team and use that with the government side to actually move us forward," he said.

NASA and some of the major players in the private sector met at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles to discuss the future of space travel and exploration.

Naveen Jain, co-founder of the aerospace company Moon Express, has high hopes that space tourism will explode. "If you're getting married or getting engaged, why give someone a diamond. If you love her enough you'll give her the moon," Jain added.

Lockheed Martin's Michael Hawes said, however, that traveling the moon may not be viable at this point in time.

"I think it is somewhat still science fiction, but mostly not because it can't technically be done," he explained. "But I don't see the market place evolving for that as quickly as some do."

Work is being done on future travel into deep space.  NASA has conducted a successful test flight of Orion, its next generation spacecraft, that it plans to eventually use to ferry astronauts to the moon and beyond.  NASA is also looking at private industry to further service the International Space Station.

"So they have a couple of companies providing cargo. They have a couple companies that are been contracted to provide crew in the future," said Hawes.

NASA is also looking toward the private sector for space travel research that can also have benefits right here at home.  These include technology advancements such as miniature cameras on cell phones, and finding solutions to health problems in space, that could also help people right here at home.

"What we see in space is the human body, for some reason there's tremendous bone loss: On the order of 20-to-30 percent of your bones can be lost per month in space if you don't do any kind of physical exercise. That occurs in our elderly population," said NASA's Gerstenmaier.

Boeing's John Elbon said while these research opportunities are exciting, solving space-related problems takes time.

"In a hundred years from now, there will be a commercial space industry that you can't imagine today what it will be like based on kind of where we are now," he said. "We have to be careful not to lose sight of how difficult these things are. At the same time, we can't lose the enthusiasm that there's going to be a heck of a lot opportunity in front of us."

But, the experts say, these opportunities could even lead us to one day colonizing Mars.

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