It's the dawn of a new era in human spaceflight — one where pretty much anyone with deep enough pockets can fly to space. Private company Axiom Space has announced its first all-commercial astronaut crew, which is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) for an eight-day mission early next year.
The three paying customers — each of whom shelled out $55 million for the trip — are American investor Larry Connor, who will serve as pilot, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe. The three will fly under the command of former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, now a vice president at Axiom Space and veteran of four spaceflights.
López-Alegría will oversee the crew's intense training program, which will be comparable to that of professional astronauts. Once the crew reaches space, it won't be all about doing backflips in zero-gravity; each private astronaut will perform scientific research and experiments during the mission (though we're sure there will be time for a few backflips, too.)
"We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I'm glad to say we've done that with this group," Michael Suffredini, Axiom Space president and CEO, said in a statement. "This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space — and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home."
The Axiom Space crew won't actually be the first private citizens in space; in fact, seven others have flown to the ISS in the past as commercial astronauts, otherwise known as "space tourists." But they've always been accompanied by a crew of professional astronauts or cosmonauts, and they've always flown on a government spacecraft. (All seven launched on Russia's Soyuz system.) The Axiom crew, however, is the very first all-private crew, and they'll be flying commercial, too. They'll be hitching a ride in SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which became the first private spacecraft to successfully bring astronauts to the ISS and back to Earth in 2020.
Before SpaceX's monumental achievement, crewed flights had been monopolized by government agencies, namely NASA and Russia's Roscosmos, in conjunction with other international partners. But these agencies are now opening up the skies to commercial opportunities, paving the way for the private space tourism industry to flourish.
Axiom plans on flying up to two missions to the ISS each year, starting with this Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) in 2022. In 2024, it'll attach its own modules to the orbiting laboratory, with the hope of eventually building its own space station for both government and private missions. So, that dream you've had of taking a trip to space? Well, it's on its way to becoming a reality.
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