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NASA delays launch of its first space tourism mission to ISS

Three amateur astronauts itching to get to the International Space Station (ISS) will have to wait a little longer than expected after NASA shifted the mission’s targeted launch date from the end of February to the end of March.

Texas-based Axiom Space — the organizer of what will be NASA’s first space tourism trip to the ISS — said the mission team is now targeting March 31 due to “additional spacecraft preparations and space station traffic,” suggesting other spacecraft will be on maneuvers around the ISS toward the end of February and the beginning of March.

Ax-1, the first ever private astronaut mission to the @Space_Station, is now targeting a March 31 launch due to additional spacecraft preparations & space station traffic. The multinational crew will conduct science, outreach, & commercial activities during their 8 days on ISS.

— Axiom Space (@Axiom_Space) January 20, 2022

The Ax-1 space tourism mission — or “private astronaut” mission as NASA prefers to call it — will last about a week and be crewed by Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, and former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe. Former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría will complete the crew, flying as commander of the mission.

Ax-1 will use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch the crew to space, with its trusty Crew Dragon spacecraft transporting the four crew members to and from the ISS.

Pathy, Connor, and Stibbe are reported to be paying around $55 million each for the space tourism trip, during which they’ll work on research and philanthropic projects that will likely include various health-related activities.

The mission is part of plans by NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, to commercialize the ISS in a bid to raise funds while at the same time increasing access to space for private citizens, albeit very wealthy ones.

While Ax-1 will be NASA’s first experience of overseeing a space tourism mission, Roscosmos has been operating such missions on and off for years.

Its most recent tourism mission was in December when it used a Soyuz spacecraft to take two Japanese space tourists to the ISS, with the pair returning to Earth after 12 days in space.

American Dennis Tito became the first private citizen to reach space in 2001 after paying a reported $20 million for a ride to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

SpaceX could also expand its orbital tourism trips that send amateur astronauts to space for several days but which don’t dock at the space station. The first such mission took place last September when it sent four private citizens into orbit for three days in a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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