When it comes to space, even the wildest ideas have a chance of becoming reality – especially when the timing and technology align just so. Four years ago, Axiom Space announced plans to build a private space station; like for many companies with similar plans before them, the news was generally well received but with a healthy dose of “we’ll believe it when we see it.” Over the intervening years, Houston-based Axiom has continued the steady march forward and today took a major step on the planned path to create a private space station – and prove the demand for those willing to pay to reach it.
Today, Axiom Space announced the four members selected for the first private crew to visit the International Space Station. The mission, dubbed Ax1, will be lead by former NASA astronaut and Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría as commander. American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, and impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe of Israel will round out the crew as pilot and two mission specialists respectively.
Early reception was generally positive; while some pointed out that the crew lacks gender diversity, others countered that former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is currently slated as Ax1’s backup commander. (John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tenn. is the backup mission pilot.)
“This collection of pioneers – the first space crew of its kind – represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said. “I look forward to leading this crew and to their next meaningful and productive contributions to the human story, both on orbit and back home.”
The four-member crew, which is currently scheduled to launch to the ISS no earlier than January 2022 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will spend eight days on the space station before returning to earth. They will participate in research and philanthropy projects during that period, similar to the work current governmental astronauts do during their longer tenures on ISS. Each man paid $55 million for their spot on the Ax1 crew and to cover costs of launch and accommodation aboard ISS.
This is in line with the sums past space tourists have paid for individual flights to the ISS. Eight private citizens traveled to space between 2001 and 2009, each paying between reportedly between $20-25 million. A successful Ax1 mission will increase the number of private citizens who have visited the ISS by 50%, and pave the way for a more comfortable ride (Crew Dragon was generally praised for being comfortable by DM-2 astronaut Bob Behnken; the Russian Soyuz that carried past space tourists is notoriously uncomfortable.)
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President & CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”
However, the flight and stay aboard ISS are not guaranteed: Axiom Space is still negotiating a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) with NASA to enable private astronaut missions like Ax1 and future planned missions. The eventual goal is to send two missions per year to the ISS while Axiom Space builds out a private space station, first as a series of attached modules to the existing ISS structure, then as a free-floating station of its own.
The crew announcement marks an important first step, as it puts names and faces to the private citizens who may make history as early as January next year.
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