NASA has been planning private partnerships for years

Space Science

A rendering of a design by Bigelow Aerospace. (KLAS-TV)

MYSTERY WIRE — With the nation looking forward to the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, a new step in the privatization of the space program could be accomplished.

A project on the floor at Bigelow Aerospace. (KLAS-TV)

SpaceX is just one of several private companies that have tried to conquer space over the years. For years, the only way the United States could get astronauts to the ISS was to pay Russia for a ride on a Soyuz rocket.

Between the shuttle program ending and the upcoming launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Station, the lack of a manned space program from NASA cleared the way for private development of space. This led to several billionaires stepping up like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Robert Bigelow.

While the other private companies mostly focused on rockets, Bigelow built something that would be a destination, a place for all the transportation systems and rockets to go. Bigelow wanted to build his own space stations, one for low earth orbit (LEO) and also a lunar orbiter to service smaller facilities on the moon.

George Knapp interviews Robert Bigelow. (KLAS-TV)

During the summer of 2019, Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas was abuzz with activity due to a visit by dozens of NASA technicians. The government sent them to Nevada to check out the model for a proposed space habitat that could one day be used for human settlement of Mars.

Bigelow put more than $300 mil. of his own money into building his plant in the early 2000’s. Over the years, his team launched three spacecraft into orbit, including one currently attached to the ISS.

During a 2019 interview Bigelow said the advantage of expandable habitats is creating more space in space.

“Our crew’s quarters are double the size of anything that’s on the station,” Bigelow said. “The International Space Station is about 950 cubic meters. And what we’re sitting in right now is over 2000 cubic meters.”

NASA techs were impressed by the model spacecraft they inspected in 2019. But since then, the world has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic effect on the company. Bigelow Aerospace dismissed its entire work force back in March when the pandemic landed. It also suspended all operations, and is not expected to re-open.

The story below originally aired on July 13, 2006, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.

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