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NASA reveals launch date for its first space tourism mission to ISS

NASA is aiming to launch its first space tourism mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on February 28, 2022.

The mission is being organized by Texas-based Axiom Space and will use SpaceX’s tried-and-tested Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The Ax-1 space tourism mission — or “private astronaut” mission, as NASA calls it — will last a week and be crewed by Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, and former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe, together with mission commander and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría.

The three amateur astronauts are reported to each be paying in the region of $55 million for the unique experience of staying aboard the space station 250 miles above Earth. During their time in space, the trio will work on their own research and philanthropic projects, with health-related activities likely to be the main focus of their work.

Delivering news of the targeted launch date via Twitter, Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, said: “These are important steps! Thanks to our international partners as we continue to work this mission with @Axiom_Space. Launch is now targeted Feb. 28 based on station traffic planning.”

Lueders added: “It’s exciting to see us maximizing @Space_Station and expanding access to low-Earth orbit!”

These are important steps! Thanks to our international partners as we continue to work this mission with @Axiom_Space. Launch is now targeted Feb. 28 based on station traffic planning. It's exciting to see us maximizing @Space_Station and expanding access to low-Earth orbit!

— Kathy Lueders (@KathyLueders) December 20, 2021

NASA’s announcement comes a week after the agency revealed it had selected Axiom for its second private astronaut mission — also destined for the ISS — that’s set to take place between fall 2022 and late spring 2023.

NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are stepping up efforts to commercialize the ISS as part of efforts to raise funds and increase access to space. Critics, however, see the rocket flights as a waste of money and a cause of pollution as the super-rich look for increasingly extreme ways to blow their cash.

Earlier this month Roscosmos used a Soyuz spacecraft to carry two Japanese space tourists to the ISS, with the pair returning to Earth this week after 12 days aboard the orbiting facility, while in November it organized a short stay for two Russian filmmakers.

These aren’t the first private missions to the space station. In 2001, soon after the ISS went into operation, American Dennis Tito became the first space tourist after handing over a reported $20 million for a ride to the facility aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

Up until this year, the last tourist missions to the ISS took place in 2009, again using Roscosmos hardware. One of the travelers, Hungarian-American software architect Charles Simonyi, took not one but two flights to the ISS, in 2007 and 2009, becoming the only person to pay his own way to space more than once.

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