During the 34th space symposium, a major discussion took place whether or not private corporations like Taco Bell should be able to sponsor future space stations. Erin MacDonald, who is an engineer for the Engility Space and Mission Systems Group, was strictly against the idea. He claimed that it would go against the perception of how space stations should be in general.
The Trump administration has a plan for ending U.S. government funding for the international space station after 2024. The timeline and its role in the future of space station is something that can be agreed about. However, it has been suggested that private space stations will not be able to operate without the support of government funding. A statement made by Alexander MacDonald, a senior economic advisor for NASA.
MacDonald goes on to further suggest that NASA should start to support the development of commercial space stations. In his words, NASA is very much interested in new outposts due to the constant need for access to low Earth orbit, especially when the space station will not be an option anymore.
In the audience of the panel discussion, Erin MacDonald spoke out about concerns regarding education and public knowledge. She questioned Taco Bell directly about the sponsorship. After the panel discussion Roger Bigelow, a founder of Bigelow Aerospace, commented that the growing space industry is like any other commercial business. They have to follow the money to succeed and make sure that everything is safe and legal. Bigelow agrees that once the space activities are established there will also be a need to promote education and philanthropy.
Ken Shields, the director of operations for the center for the advancement of science in space, has a long-term vision tied to the subject. A U.S. national laboratory which will not be directly related to a space station or to NASA. His belief is that even if multiple companies collaborate on future space stations, like the Taco Bell Bigelow Space Station, the Nanoracks Federal Express Space Station, the main priority should not be pure profit. In his vision, a U.S. national laboratory would be the ideal sort of place that NASA and other government agencies should use in the future.
So, will Taco Bell be the first restaurant to make it into space? Only time will tell, however, it is highly likely that as with any other industry, in the end, money is a big motivator.