The International Space Station, with its price tag of around $150 billion, is the most expensive thing ever built. While NASA didn’t foot the bill itself, it allocated large amounts of its annual budget for years to build it. Prior to grounding the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA used the shuttles to visit the ISS 135 times.

NASA Admits It Needs SpaceX, Boeing

But now, NASA has no way to shuttle crew and cargo to the ISS and beyond with NASA administrator Charles Bolden remarking on this earlier this week.

“We will conduct missions that will each set their own impressive roster of firsts. First crew to visit and take samples from an asteroid. First crew to fly beyond the orbit of the moon. Perhaps the first crew to grow it’s own food and eat it in space. All of which will set us up for humanity’s next giant leap: the first crew to touch down on and take steps on the surface of Mars.”

Musk talks Mars…again.

But, in order for NASA to realize these ambitions in space it’s going to need help and as a consequence, NASA awarded multibillion dollar contracts to both SpaceX and The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) and that has Musk talking about Mars yet again.

“It doesn’t matter how smart someone is within the government, it simply can’t be accomplished with that structure,” said Musk.

“I don’t think NASA could establish a self-sustaining city on Mars simply because it would be cost prohibitive. If NASA did it the traditional government way, the cost of doing it would exceed the federal budget.”

However, as excited as Elon Musk gets when Mars is mentioned, it’s both literally and figuratively a long ways away.

NASA: Space tourism and space hotels

Low earth orbit is first and that’s where the International Space Station lives. Additionally, Musk and his counterparts at Boeing see that as a prime place for “space tourism” as well as manned missions to the ISS. SpaceX is planning on using its Dragon to ferry five passengers to the ISS while Boeing will use its CST100. Presumably, the flight will include four astronauts with one seat going to a “space tourist.”

Boeing has a working partnership with Space Adventures to book those passengers and is also looking at a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace to develop expansion modules on the ISS that could be used as space hotels.