How NASA Is Preparing the First All Civilian Crew to Visit the ISS

by TK Sanders

Four civilian astronauts will soon spend a week living and working from the International Space Station. NASA confirmed the details of the mission in conjunction with private companies Axiom Space and SpaceX.

Axiom will operate the trip as it attempts to develop its own module for the ISS. SpaceX will provide the hardware: a Crew Dragon capsule will ferry the civilians through space to the station. NASA astronaut and Axiom Space VP Michael López-Alegría will command the mission. Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe will pilot and crew the shuttles during the day-long trip to the space station.

Each participant of the mission spent $55 million for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The team launches on Wednesday, March 30, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They launch on a flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once at the station, they will carry out a range of commercial endeavors, as well as host educational seminars for children.

The crew have been training at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, and other NASA facilities, since August 2021. This training helped the crew learn the ISS systems, facilities on board, and emergency procedures. The quartet have also worked with SpaceX engineers in California to become familiar with the Crew Dragon capsule.

“This mission represents another significant milestone in our efforts to create a low-Earth orbit economy,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA. 

“I wish these Axiom crew members safe travels, and I hope they find their time in space productive and enjoyable.”

The ISS will eventually be dismantled one day soon

The crew, labeled Ax-1 by NASA, will have mixed objectives during their time in space. NASA confirmed that the exact mission details won’t be known until closer to launch time.

‘The goal for the Ax-1 crew is to set a standard for all future private astronaut missions in terms of our preparation and professionalism,” López-Alegría said.

“As the commander, I am proud of the work these crew members have put in to be ready to conduct meaningful work on the International Space Station. I’m glad to see them meet the standards required of all astronauts flying to station since Expedition 1. 

“Ax-1 focuses on a huge amount of science and outreach activities, and we look forward to finalizing that flight program.”

Expedition 1 was the original launch of American and Russian astronauts to the ISS on November 2, 2000. Ever since, the space station has been occupied by some international presence.

NASA recently announced the ISS would be classified as non-operational in nine years. International space organizations plans to sink it in the South Pacific Ocean in January 2031. As a precursor to that plan, NASA plans to support commercial operators in launching privately funded space stations. The Axiom Space module, which will attach to the ISS, is one of those early missions.