We will obviously see another major turning point in private space flight before the end of 2020.
In May, SpaceX became the first company to ever launch astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). That mission, a test flight known as Demo-2, sent NASA’s Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the orbital lab for a two-month stay.
Then, last month, the company Elona Muska launched Crew-1, the astronauts’ first operational mission to the station under a contract with NASA’s $ 2.6 billion commercial crew program. Crew-1 carried four space pilots – NASA’s Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi – on a regular six-month stay.
These successes helped pave the way for another commercial crew flight to the station this year, and a very special one: The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Wednesday (December 23rd) that, “for the first time ever,” he issued a special commercial space permit to Santa for a crew mission to the ISS.
Related: Holidays in space: a photo album of astronauts
Santa, however, won’t be flying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. St. Nick will travel by ship “with his StarSleigh-1 space capsule powered by a Rudolph rocket,” FAA officials he wrote in a statement. “The mission license includes both launch and re-entry, and will take place from a U.S.-based spaceport.”
That spaceport is not listed. But the Pacific spaceport complex in Alaska, which recently hosted a California startup Astra’s first space flight, would be a natural choice, given its relative proximity to the North Pole.
Santa had apparently visited the ISS earlier; otherwise, astronauts celebrating Christmas in orbit in the lab would not have received any gifts. But how he went on those previous trips is unclear, as the newly issued permit is the first commercial permit granted by the FAA to Santa Claus.
For example, did StarSleigh-1 – a mysterious craft about which little is known – secretly fly to the station in previous years? Santa obviously possesses very advanced technology, so it is possible that the capsule contains some sort of masking system. And unlicensed visits to the ISS would certainly not be uncommon for St. Nick, the most skilled and excellent home striker in history.
Or maybe Santa Claus once hid NASA ships spaceships and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the only crew vehicles to ever visit the ISS before Crew Dragon’s pioneering missions this year. (The shuttles landed in 2011, so it is Soyuz was until recently the only orbital taxi available for astronauts.) Although cunning, Santa can descend down the narrowest chimney, so imperceptibly cramming into an alliance of three is out of the question.
Most of the time Santa will deliver on Christmas, of course, will be spent here on Earth. As always, you can track the progress of the merry elf around our planet via NORAD, North American Space Defense Command.
Mike Wall is the author of “Ohut There“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.