SpaceX and Axiom launch private astronaut crews at space stations

On Friday, a retired NASA astronaut and three paying customers sailed for the International Space Station.

The space station is the first mission on which all passengers are private citizens, and this is the first time that NASA has assisted in arranging a space tour. NASA officials said the flight marked a pivotal moment in efforts by commercial organizations to increase space travel.

Dana Vogel, deputy program manager for NASA’s space station, said, “This event is a major milestone in our overall campaign, in which we try to boost our commercial low-Earth orbit economy.” Launch.

But the mission also highlighted that for customers traveling to orbit, most customers will be very wealthy in the near term. Axiom Space of Houston worked as a tour operator, selling seats for 10-day trips, including $ 55 million a day at the station. Axiom recruited SpaceX to provide transportation – a Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon Capsule, the same system that sends NASA astronauts to and from the station.

At 11:17 a.m. Eastern time, the mission, called Axiom-1, followed a clear count in the clear blue sky from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Welcome to space,” a SpaceX officer told Axiom-1 crew shortly after the capsule rocket dropped from the second stage. “Thanks for flying Falcon 9. You guys enjoy a trip to this wonderful space station in the sky.”

The clients of Axiom-1 Mission are Larry Connor, Managing Partner of Connor Group, a firm in Dayton, Ohio, which owns and operates luxury apartments; Mark Powdy, Chief Executive of Mavrik Corporation, a Canadian investment company; And Eytan Stibbe, an investor and former Israeli Air Force pilot.

They will be led by Michael Lopez-Algeria to the space station, a former NASA astronaut who is now vice president at Axiom and commander of the Ax-1 mission.

“What a ride!” Mr Lopez-Alegria Diou from Orbit on Twitter.

They are set to hit the space station early Saturday.

Although the Kennedy Space Center is part of NASA, NASA had almost no role in launch orbit riding. Agency officials were happy about this as they look to the future when they can only buy room-like services from commercial vendors at the space station.

The International Space Station, about as long as the football field, is a technological miracle, but one that costs NASA $ 1.3 billion a year to operate NASA. Although NASA wants to extend the life of the current station by 2030, it is expected that at that time, the least expensive commercial space stations will be in orbit.

For NASA, this means learning how to collaborate with private companies in orbit, including hosting space tours, while Axiom and other companies have to figure out how to build a profitable off-sea business.

Axiom is planning four or five such missions at the space station, and then has a contract with NASA to connect the many modules he is building to the space station. When the International Space Station finally retires, these modules will be separated so that the center of an Axiom station becomes available.

“This is the first mission that is really in our quest to build a commercial space station,” Michael T. Axiom’s president and chief executive, who had previously worked at managing the ISS in NASA, said Sofredeni.

Space tourism increased last year. Blue Origin, a company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, began taking paid customers on short sub trips to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic’s founder, Richard Branson, started flying on short flights and selling tickets for future flights.

In September, a SpaceX crew chartered a dragon launch chartered by Jared Eskamine, a billionaire entrepreneur, on his first trip to orbit with none of the passengers being a professional astronaut. For a mission called Inspiration4, Mr. Ice cream decided to give three people a chance that would never end their journey. The trip did not go to the space station, and remained in orbit for four or three days before returning to Earth.

In contrast, each of Axiom’s astronauts is acting in its own way, and the experience is different. The first private passengers at the space station – most recently Yasuka Mizawa, a Japanese billionaire – traveled on the Russian Suez rocket and accompanied by a Russian Russian astronaut. For this flight, Axiom and SpaceX are in charge of the mission from launch until the capsule enters the space station.

During a news conference last month, Mr Connor objected to being called a space tourist.

“Astronauts, they spend 10 or 15 hours in training, 5 to 10 minutes in space,” he said. “And by the way, that’s fine. In our case, depending on our role, we spend anywhere from 750 to 1,000 hours of training.

At least in theory, this is the future that NASA has been working on for decades.

In 1984, during the Reagan administration, the law that established NASA was amended to encourage off-shore private business. But after the Challenger’s loss in 1986, plans to privatize NASA’s space shuttle were stopped.

Instead, the Soviet space program in the post-communist years was ahead of NASA in selling access to space. When the International Space Station opened, Dennis Tito, an American businessman, was the first Russian host tourist in 2001 to visit. Russia stopped taking private passengers after 2009; With the imminent retirement of the space shuttle, NASA needed to purchase available seats on the Russian rocket to launch and retrieve its astronauts from the space station.

In the past few years, NASA has opened up the idea of ​​space tourism. Jim Bernstein, NASA’s administrator during the Trump administration, often spoke of being one of NASA’s customers and how this would reduce costs for NASA.

But for NASA to be one of many customers, there must be other customers. Finally, other applications such as pharmaceutical research or zero-gravity production may eventually succeed.

For now, the most promising marketers are wealthy people who pay for themselves to visit the place.

While Axiom Space now refuses to comment when asked how much it is charging people to take to the International Space Station, the company paid a ticket a few years ago: $ 55 million per passenger.

High cost is needed to get into the rocket and spacecraft. And once there, customers will have to pay for accommodation and amenities.

In 2019, NASA set up a price list for use by space companies by private companies. For space tourists, NASA said that the companies cost Axiom Space $ 35,000 per night to utilize sleeping rooms and facilities, including air, water, internet and toilets. Last year, NASA said it was raising costs for future trips to the station.

In some areas, Axiom-1 crew members undergo NASA astronaut training, especially for safety procedures and daily living in orbit. Ms. Weigel gave the toilet as an example. They needed to learn how space station toilets work, but, as a guest, they didn’t need to train how to repair a toilet if it got damaged.

When they board the space station, Axiom travelers will get an idea of ​​what to do in different emergencies and how to use the facilities. “It actually looks exactly like what our staff does for the first day and half,” Ms. Vogel said.

Afterwards, Axiom will sail the astronauts and perform their activities, including 25 scientific experiments, which they intend to do during the eight days at the space station. Experiments include planned medical work with institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Axiom astronauts also demonstrate some technology such as self-propelled robots that can be used to build spacecraft in the future.

Axiom tourist activities are coordinated with other staff members at the space station so that people do not try to use the same facility at the same time.

“It’s more than a 1,000-piece puzzle, I’ll put it in such a way as to bring them all together,” said Ms. Vogel.

With a large number of people living on the US part, some sleeping quarters are temporary in different parts of the station. One person will sleep in the Crew Dragon, Ms. Vogel said.

But Axiom passengers said they were careful not to get in the way of other crew members.

“We are very aware that we will be a guest at ISS,” Mr. Lopez-Alegria said last month.

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