SpaceX has changed the dynamics.
The International Space Station is, without a doubt, really awesome — but even NASA has to admit when it's reached its limits.
As SpaceNews reports, a NASA official suggested during a recent conference that because commercial spacecraft like those of SpaceX have made it possible to take four American astronauts to the ISS rather than three, the extra cargo needed to sustain that fourth person takes up quite a bit of space that would otherwise be used to transport research equipment.
"As we get into this discussion of what is full utilization, I will tell you that I believe that we are already there," Kirt Costello, the chief scientist for the ISS, told assembled members of the National Academies' space survey. "We have maximized the capabilities of station not only to do research but to sustain the utilization resources we have."
Essentially, Costello said that there's now something of a space crunch aboard the station.
"To get at equipment for research, for some of our investigations, the crew has to wade through this stowage and find the right bags," the scientist said. "We’re currently seeing enhanced amounts of crew time being added to crew activities just to retrieve stowage."
In an image SpaceNews viewed from Costello's presentation, the additional cargo bags needed for that fourth astronaut were seen lined up in station passageways, and although the site didn't publish that photo, we can only imagine that that's not an ideal storage situation for those aboard.
For now, NASA is reportedly relying on the introduction of other commercial crafts to ease some of these cargo storage issues — at least three new ones, per Costello's comments.
In a certain sense, this could be a teachable moment not just for NASA, but for those of us who are considering an off-world future for humanity. As the agency is learning, the more people that get sent up into space, the more supplies they'll need to survive.
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