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The International Space Station. Photo: NASA

While NASA’s high-profile, expensive missions anchor the space agency’s plans for exploration, the agency is also supporting a number of private companies in their bids to commercialize space.

Driving the news: A number of NASA announcements in the past week have specifically broadened the roles the agency’s commercial partners will play in the future of spaceflight.

  • Twelve companies recently completed studies for NASA looking into how the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit in general might be used by private entities for commercial purposes.
  • Many of the companies — including Blue Origin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman — presented ideas for new, free-floating space stations that could play host to tourists and even manufacturing.
  • NASA awarded more than $253 million total to three companies tasked with flying the agency's science experiments to the Moon ahead of the 2024 human landing.
  • On Friday, NASA will announce “plans to open the International Space Station to expanded commercial activities” during an event at Nasdaq.

Background: NASA has long needed commercial partners to make its space-faring dreams come true. NASA supplies and experiments are currently delivered to the ISS by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. Boeing and SpaceX hope to launch astronauts to the station for the agency within the next year.

The bottom line: If operations in low-Earth orbit can be given over to private entities — with NASA as a customer — agency administrator Jim Bridenstine says that could free the space agency up to figure out how to send people deeper into the solar system with the coming moon mission and eventually Mars.

Go deeper

30 mins ago - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: America looks for the exits after a year of COVID

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A year after the coronavirus abruptly shut down much of the country, Americans are watching for a clear signal of when the pandemic will be over — and most won't be ready to ditch the masks and social distancing until they get it, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The big picture: The poll found that more Americans are expecting the outbreak to be over sooner rather than later, as vaccinations ramp up throughout the country — but that very few are ready to end the precautions that have upended their lives.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
31 mins ago - Health

Many vulnerable Americans have received the coronavirus vaccine

Data: CDC, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than two-thirds of Americans 75 and older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, as have more than half of those 65-74, per CDC data.

Why it matters: Any future surge in cases almost certainly wouldn't be as deadly as previous waves, because older people are the most likely to die from the virus.

3 hours ago - World

Report: "Clear evidence" China is committing genocide against Uyghurs

The scene in 2019 of a site believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Kashgar in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese authorities have breached "each and every act prohibited" under the UN Genocide Convention over the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province, an independent report published Tuesday alleges.

Why it matters: D.C. think-tank the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which released the report, said in a statement the conclusions by dozens of experts in war crimes, human rights and international law are "clear and convincing": The ruling Chinese Communist Party bears responsibility.