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NASA just days away from historic ISS mission

NASA is just days away from launching its first space tourism mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Currently targeting Sunday, April 3, for launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, the four-person “private astronaut mission,” as NASA describes it, will travel aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft powered to orbit by the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.

The groundbreaking Ax-1 mission, organized by Texas-based Axiom Space, will be crewed by Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe, and mission commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut. Pathy, Connor, and Stibbe are reported to have each paid around $55 million to visit the station some 250 miles above Earth.

The amateur astronauts, along with experienced space traveler López-Alegría, are set to spend around 10 days aboard the orbiting outpost, living and working alongside the current crew comprising professional astronauts.

According to Axiom Space, the crew has spent hundreds of hours training for the upcoming mission, with careful attention paid to safety, health, ISS systems, launch site operations, and emergency protocols. Additional training has also been given for dealing with the more than 25 research and technology demonstration payloads that the visitors will be working on during their time aboard the station.

Prelaunch activities are progressing. Yesterday, the #Ax1 crew completed test drive – also known as the Crew Equipment Interface Test (CEIT) –in the Dragon spacecraft they’ll fly aboard to and from the @Space_Station.

— Axiom Space (@Axiom_Space) March 18, 2022

The Ax-1 mission has also been described as a “pathfinder mission” for Axiom Space’s Axiom Station, a commercial space station that it plans to deploy in the coming years after the current ISS is retired in 2031.

NASA, in partnership with commercial businesses like SpaceX and Axion Space, is interested in exploring the space tourism market as part of efforts to raise funds for the agency and increase access to space, though critics suggest the flights are unnecessary and cause harm to the environment as the super-rich look for ways to blow their money.

While NASA’s Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, has organized a number of space tourism trips to the ISS over the years — most recently involving a billionaire businessman from Japan — the Ax-1 mission will be NASA’s first such effort to bring amateur astronauts to the station. If the mission goes well, expect NASA to organize additional trips for folks that can afford it.

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