Space tourism will take off in a big way next year when a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule flies three private citizens to the International Space Station (ISS).
Organizer Axiom Space on Tuesday announced the four-person crew for a mission that will mark the first-ever entirely privately funded trip to the orbiting outpost about 250 miles above Earth.
The crew for the Ax-1 mission will comprise Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, and former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe. The mission commander for the historic endeavor will be former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría.
Reports suggest each of the three paying crew members will fork out an eye-watering $55 million for a seat on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said: “This is just the first of several Axion Space crews whose private missions to the ISS will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space — and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”
The company is now working with each so-called “Axionaut” to design ISS activities that will enable them to fulfill their personal mission goals and “shine a global spotlight on the causes that matter most in the world.”
After blasting off on a Falcon 9 rocket and flying to the space station aboard the Crew Dragon, the four crew members will stay in the U.S. segment of the ISS for about eight days, working on their chosen research and philanthropic projects.
Connor plans to collaborate with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic on a number of research projects, while Pathy will work with the Canadian Space Agency and also the Montreal Children’s Hospital on health-related research projects. Stibbe will conduct scientific experiments for Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs coordinated by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science & Technology, and also undertake educational activities for Israeli children and educators.
The three crew members won’t be the first to pay their own way to the ISS, though they will be the first to use a commercially built spacecraft. In 2001, for example, former rocket engineer Dennis Tito became the first paying passenger to visit the space station, with the round-trip ticket costing the space tourist $20 million. Since then, six further space tourists have visited the ISS, reaching the satellite aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in missions organized by Virginia-based Space Adventures.
Others hoping to enter the space tourism business include Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, though their services will offer sub-orbital trips lasting only a matter of minutes and going no further than the Karman line 62 miles up, generally considered as the starting point of space. SpaceX is also working with Space Adventures for future space tourism trips that will orbit Earth at a higher point than the ISS.
The Ax-1 mission’s first launch opportunity is in January 2022, subject to final approval from NASA and its international partners.
Axiom Space is aiming to fly up to two private missions a year to the space station, giving the super-rich a novel way of using up some of their loose change.
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