A proposed reality TV show competition called “Space Hero” wants to send one lucky civilian to the International Space Station (ISS)—and they may have taken one giant leap toward a series launch.
The show itself will take place here on Earth, with participants competing for a grand prize trip to the ISS on a vessel provided by Axiom Space, Space.com reports. An actual trip to the ISS, however, has not been authorized yet.
But on April 12, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with “Space Hero” to “[facilitate] initial cooperation and information sharing” between the two organizations, a NASA spokesperson explained to Chelsea Gohd for Space.com. Space Act Agreements are legal contracts NASA uses whenever they enter into a partnership with an outside contractor. For example, these agreements are frequently used between NASA and other international space agencies when collaborating on research endeavors on the ISS.
The agreement between NASA and “Space Hero” is meant to assess the mission's feasibility, but falls short of authorizing a private astronaut mission to the ISS.
The TV show is in pre-production, with global casting search for contestants “who share a deep love for space exploration,” Nellie Andreeva reported in an exclusive for Deadline in September 2020. If NASA approves Space Hero's mission after the feasibility study, a new agreement will need to be put in place between NASA and the private astronaut mission provider.
"We'll assess the feasibility of their mission, but they have to make the agreement with Axiom as a private astronaut mission provider, and then Axiom will have to propose and be selected for that private astronaut mission," the NASA spokesperson explained to Space.com.
Space Hero will feature 24 contestants in total and document their lives in a "space village” to prepare and compete for the ISS flight, reports Miriam Kramer for Axios. On the show, the contestants will have their emotional, mental and physical strength tested, similar to how astronauts train before a flight, Deadline reports.
Once a winner is selected, Space Hero will continue to broadcast the contestant's $55 million, ten-day stay at the ISS alongside professional astronauts. The program is scheduled to air in 2023, and anyone over age 18 can enter the competition, reports Victor Tangermann for Futurism.
The new ‘Space Hero’ agreement comes when private investors and companies are racing to be the first commercial company to launch private space stations and allow private space flights, reports Miriam Kramer for Axios in another article. At the end of March 2021, NASA released a statement detailing their Commercial LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) Destinations project, asking for industry input on commercial destinations to establish a low-Earth orbit economy.
"Commercial destinations are a critical piece of our robust and comprehensive plan for transitioning low-Earth orbit toward more commercial operations," said Angela Hart, NASA's program manager for the Commercial LEO Development Program in a statement. "This strategy provides us and industry the best path for success."
In the first phase of the plan, NASA will develop Space Act Agreements for early concept development of commercial destinations in low-orbit Earth locations. In the second phase, NASA will purchase destination services, the statement explains.
A few space companies with plans in the works to build private space stations or provide private spaceflights include Space X, Axiom Space, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation. Axiom Space already has plans to build “a node module, research & manufacturing facility, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory to form the ‘Axiom Segment’ of the ISS,” the company explains in a statement. NASA selected Axiom to build the first commercial platform attached to the ISS in January 2020.
The aging ISS will likely run out of funding, and thus be decommissioned, after 2028, reports Meghan Bartels for Space.com. Axiom’s Module may become a free-flying internationally available commercial space station when NASA decommissions the ISS, a statement from Axiom Space explains.
As spaceflight opportunities open up to private citizens and private companies, Space Hero founders Thomas Reemer and Deborah Sass hope the TV show will showcase what the space industry and other space agencies can offer and make space more accessible to everyday people, reports Axios.
"Let's make space cool. Let's make it sexy. Let's make it pop culture," Sass tells Axios. "Let's make it mainstream so that everybody wants to get involved — not just a few that are super smart or super educated or super privileged. Let's make it available and accessible and engaging to everybody, and that's what mass media does.