NASA will launch its inaugural tourism mission comprised of a civilian crew to the International Space Station this week. The three amateur astronauts traveling to the orbital observatory each paid a staggering $55 million to reserve a seat for the trip, the Daily Mail reports.
At a glance
- Three civilians paid a whopping $55 million to travel to the International Space Station on their own vessel
- Ex-NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría will serve as commander on the mission
- The all-civilian mission is a first of its kind, and perhaps a glimpse into the future of space travel for non-astronauts
Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, US entrepreneur Larry Connor, and ex-Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe will travel aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The mission commences from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 12:05 ET on April 6.
The civilian crew will spend eight days at the space station. There, they will perform scientific research, outreach, and commercial activities, according to NASA. Former American astronaut Michael López-Alegría will serve as commander on the Axiom Mission 1 (dubbed Ax-1).
Commercial spaceflight company Axiom Space is aiding in the first-of-its-kind mission. No all-private crew has ever visited the International Space Station since its inception in 1998; though various governments have sent civilians to the ISS in recent years. Axiom Space said it has aspirations to build a commercial space station in low-Earth orbit once NASA retires the ISS in 2031.
Russia has sent seven self-funded tourists to space in partnership with the US-based company Space Adventures over the years; and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (with his assistant Yozo Hirano) spent 12 days on the ISS last year.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX took the first-ever all-civilian crew on a three-day orbit around Earth last year, as well. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin also completed two private missions beyond the Earth’s atmosphere in 2021.
NASA extensively trained the civilian crew for their journey into space
The three private astronauts Pathy, Connor, and Stibbe have rigorously prepared for the adventure over the past few months. The training allows them to become familiar with the ISS systems, scientific facilities on board the shuttle, and procedures in case of emergency. They have even test-driven the Dragon spacecraft. Connor will serve as pilot; with Pathy and Stibbe filling in as mission specialists during the 24 hour trip to the station.
Houston-based Axiom Space called the mission as precursor to its larger goals of occupying territory in space.
“For us, it [Ax-1] really is the first of a series of flights precursor missions before our station comes to orbit,” said Michael Suffredini, Axiom’s president and CEO. Suffredini was also NASA’s International Space Station program manager from 2005 to 2015.
“The first module will come into orbit in the latter part of 2024; and so this really is paving a way for a new era. There are more and more opportunities for individuals and nations around the world to live and work in the microgravity environment.”