In this new era of space tourism, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has already sent four amateur astronauts to the International Space Station in two missions since October. Now, NASA is gearing up for its first such flight, organized by private spaceflight company Axiom using SpaceX hardware, in February 2022.
This week NASA announced its second private mission to the ISS, again using Axiom. Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) is aiming to launch between fall 2022 and late spring 2023.
A rocket carrying the crew will lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and stay docked at the space station for up to 14 days.
There’s no word yet on who will be taking the flight, but speculation may focus on actor Tom Cruise after NASA confirmed last year that it was talking to the Hollywood legend about using the orbiting outpost to shoot scenes for a movie. But with Russian movie star Yulia Peresild recently beating Cruise to become the first actor to shoot a movie in space, it’s not clear if the trip still holds the same allure for the American entertainer.
“NASA and its international partners will review private astronauts selections proposed by Axiom for the Ax-2 mission, as is standard for any space station crew,” the space agency said on Monday. “The proposed crewmembers would undergo NASA medical qualification testing to be approved for flight.”
Commercializing low-Earth orbit
Spaceflights to the ISS involving private citizens are part of NASA’s goal to commercialize low-Earth orbit.
Axiom’s first mission early next year will take three civilians and a former astronaut to the space station for a stay lasting about a week. Each of the three civilians — an investor, an entrepreneur, and a former fighter pilot — has reportedly paid an eye-watering $55 million for the trip of a lifetime, with the cash split between Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA.
During their time aboard the station, the private astronauts will work on their own research and various philanthropic projects.
Besides the actor and filmmaker who visited the ISS in October courtesy of several Russian media companies, Roscosmos more recently took two Japanese space tourists to the ISS, including billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa. It’s not known how much he paid for the adventure.
While critics might say the space agencies are turning the ISS into a playground for the super-rich, some of the money handed over by the tourists will be used to finance ongoing scientific work aboard the orbiting laboratory, taking the burden off taxpayers and potentially leading to advancements in science and technology that benefit humans back on terra firma.
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