An American real estate investor, Canadian investor, and former Israeli Air Force pilot is paying $ 55 million each to be part of the first fully private astronaut crew for a trip to the International Space Station. The trio will make a trip on the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule early next year, with a veteran NASA astronaut as captain.

The Ax-1 mission, arranged by the Houston, Texas-based space tourism company Axiom Space, is a watershed moment in the space industry as companies race to make space travel more accessible for private clients rather than governments. Ordinary citizens have traveled to the space station in the past, but the Ax-1 mission marked the first to use a commercially built astronaut capsule: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which flew The first two crews to the International Space Station last year.

“As the first fully private mission going to the International Space Station, we feel a great responsibility to do it well,” said Michael Lopez Alegria, a veteran astronaut and mission leader. the edge Tuesday. “We know that this is what sets the direction, and sets the standards for the future, so our goal is to truly exceed all expectations.”

Larry Connor, entrepreneur and activist non-profit investor; Mark Bathy, Canadian investor and philanthropist; On Tuesday morning, Axiom unveiled Eitan Step, a former Israeli fighter pilot and influencer investor, as the inaugural crew for the company. Connor, 71, is the chair of the Connor Group, an Ohio-based luxury real estate investment firm. He has become the second oldest person to fly into space after John Glenn, who flew the US space shuttle Discovery at the age of 77.

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The crew’s trip to the space station, an orbital laboratory 250 miles above Earth, will take two days. In a statement, Axiom said that they would then spend eight days aboard the American part of the station, where they would participate “in research and charitable projects.” By living side-by-side with astronauts operating from the United States, Russia, and possibly Germany, the special crew members will throw sleeping bags somewhere on the station.

“There are no spaces for the astronaut crew for us, and that’s fine. Sleep in Zero-G is pretty much the same wherever you are once you close your eyes,” said Lopez Alegria.

NASA Update their policies In 2019 to allow private astronaut flights to the International Space Station as part of a broader campaign to encourage commercial opportunities in space. The agency had previously opposed private visits to the International Space Station on board a US spacecraft. Seven citizens traveled to the terminal as wealthy tourists on separate missions in the early 2000s aboard Russian Soyuz vehicles.

Private stays on the space station will have a hefty price tag, according to the 2019 NASA announcement. It will cost $ 11,250 per astronaut per day to use life support systems and a toilet, and $ 22,500 per day for all necessary crew supplies (like food, air, medical supplies, and more). And $ 42 per kWh for energy. That rate comes to a nightly rate of around $ 35,000 per person, which for the four crew members on the Ax-1 mission – including Commander López-Alegría – totals $ 1.1 million for an eight-night stay.

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The International Space Station is in low Earth orbit.
Image: NASA

Axiom says those overnight costs are included in the $ 55 million price that private astronauts are already paying. A spokesperson for Axiom said the company considers itself a “full-service mission provider interacting with all other parties (such as NASA)” for astronauts. “Any and all necessary costs are part of the Axiom ticket price.”

The Ax-1 mission must be approved by the Multilateral Crew Operations Committee, the space station management body for partner countries that include the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, among others. Lopez Alegria said the approval process began today. “I don’t think there is any doubt that the background and qualifications of the crew are more than enough to be accepted by the MCOP, so I feel fine about that,” he added.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, an acorn-shaped pod that seats seven, was approved last year by NASA as part of its commercial crew program to ferry humans to the space station. Under this nearly $ 4.5 billion program, SpaceX has developed the Crew Dragon alongside its rival Boeing, which is about a year away from certifying the Starliner Human Flight capsule. Both companies have contracts with NASA to fly six missions to take American astronauts into space.

It was the Ax-1 mission It was announced early last year. This is SpaceX’s second space tourism effort, which was announced around the same time She also works with space tourism company Space Adventures To send up to four citizens into Earth orbit sometime in 2022.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is approaching the International Space Station with three American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut on November 17, 2020.
Image: NASA

Space tourism in recent years has sparked a flurry of interest from the wealthy and investors, as a growing field of space companies has demonstrated hardware and an intensification of unmanned experimental flights in and around space. Founder and CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk, now the richest person in the world, Made the normalization of space travel and the colonization of Mars SpaceX a top priority. Billionaire businessman Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic, who brings four-minute sets of weightlessness into his massive spaceplane for a few hundred thousand dollars, became the first publicly traded space travel company in 2019. Amazon billionaire owner Jeff Bezos will offer Blue Origin. Soon similar sub-orbital experiences with the vertically-launched New Shepard missile.

Axiom CEO Mike Soufredini co-founded the company in 2016 after spending 10 years as the International Space Station Program Director at NASA. Indeed, the company is building its own units called the “Axiom Station” designed to link it to the International Space Station, providing space for scientific experiments and more tourists. In a statement, it said the Ax-1 “is only the first of several Axiom Space crews”.

Lopez Alegria, who has traveled four times in space as a NASA astronaut, said he met Connor, Pathé and Steppe several times at SpaceX headquarters in California and in Florida during SpaceX Crew Mission 1 last year. He will be responsible for training them personally starting a few months prior to the trip.

“They are very individualistic, but they all have a very common thread, and that is that they really want this to be a successful mission that paves the way for special astronaut missions in the future,” said Lopez Alegria. “It’s a good crew.”

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