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Among NanoRacks’ customers: Three New York fifth graders who created an experiment on fish-egg development that arrived on the station in 2011. (Erica Miller / Ballston Spa Life)

Now Even Kids Can Afford to Use the Space Station

A new company makes it easier to get your payloads to orbit.

Now four years old, NanoRacks faces the problem every business hopes for: too many customers. The company had a staff of 12 as 2013 began but plans to have 25 by the end of the year, and, in addition to its Houston headquarters, is expanding its Washington, D.C. office and planning to open a third in Florida. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Manber continues to be an evangelist for the space station. “Space exploration today, by all nations, by all companies, is one of the most extraordinary achievements of humankind,” he says, and yet “there’s no more perfect example of [the space community’s dismal communication to the general public] than the International Space Station.” More people should be using the station, he says, and not just scientists. He’d like artists to do projects there and businessmen who see its potential for entertainment or marketing or other uses besides scientific research. “I think NASA has to relax a little bit,” he says. “The next step is to open up the emotional connection between consumers and this amazing facility in space.”

And the next step for NanoRacks? “I go where the customer demands,” says Manber. That sentiment may not be as grand as an exhortation to explore, but it sounds like good business.

Heather Goss is an associate editor at Air & Space/Smithsonian.

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