Virgin Galactic just signed a new Space Act Agreement with NASA's Johnson Space Center, a space tourism company, for the development of private missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The commercial participation will be developed in hopes of developing a 'robust economy' in Low Earth Orbit. Virgin Galactic will create an astronaut readiness program that will be identifying candidates who are interested in purchasing private missions.

Alongside NASA, the private missions will possibly range from private citizen explorations to scientific research missions regulated by governments. NASA will also be helping Virgin Galactic grow in the industry knowledge of space travel.

Compared to Virgin Galactic's past two test flights, the more commercial program is a simplified version of their past suborbital programs. 'A lot of the philosophies are the same. A lot of the rationale is the same,' said Mike Moses, the president of Virgin Galactic.

Training Program

The new training program will be using the company's facilities in New Mexico at Spaceport America. Candidates might also train in Virgin Galactic's spaceplane, which simulates the same environment as the weightlessness in space. Part of the simulation also 'pulls extra Gs' as it ascends into space, mimicking rockets that take off to orbit.

Moses said that they are designing an intricate program so that participants won't just 'go to a class and listen to a PowerPoint for three hours.' They want the experience to be both engaging and enjoyable; for it to be realistic and valuable for the customers and the companies involved.

Virgin Galactic won't only design the flight program, they will also have roles in attaining customers, resources, transportation, and work as a broker too. Currently, the company is looking at their transportation options, such as SpaceX's Crew Dragon, Boeing's newly developed capsule called CST-100 Starliner, and Russia's Soyuz capsule.

Depending on the customer's reason for a visit to the International Space Station, the company will be designing specific training for what to do at the space station. Moses said 'What you're going to do while you're there is the other big piece we're really looking forward to sinking our teeth into; how to prepare you while you're there and how to support you once you're on station.'

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Space Exploration

For NASA, the larger goal is leaning towards partnering with private companies with shared visions for space exploration. Their focus is to prepare for long-term stays on the moon and possible settlement on Mars. The collaborated space launch system will debut by 2021, allowing NASA to transport people to the moon by 2024

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic said, 'We are excited to partner with NASA on this private orbital spaceflight program, which will not only allow us to use our spaceflight platform but also offer our space training infrastructure to NASA and other agencies. Based on the unsurpassed levels of spaceflight customer commitments we have secured to date, we are proud to share that insight in helping to grow another market for the new space economy. We want to bring the planetary perspective to many thousands of people.'

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