If you needed any more convincing that we’ve entered a new era of human spaceflight, this mission should finally settle it for you. Houston-based startup Axiom Space will be launching the first fully private crewed mission to the International Space Station on Friday, the start of a 10-day mission that will likely be the first of many for the company.
The Ax-1 mission will take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 at approximately 11:17 a.m. ET. The four-person crew should arrive at the ISS on Saturday and spend a total of eight days aboard the station.
The crew includes:
- Former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who will act as commander of the mission. López-Alegría has completed four spaceflights, spent over 257 days in space, and logged 10 spacewalks totaling 67 hours and 40 minutes. He currently works as Axiom’s VP of business development.
- Real estate investor Larry Connor, who will be the mission pilot.
- Former Israeli pilot and investor Eytan Stibbe, who will act as a mission specialist.
- Canadian investor Mark Pathy, who will be the second mission specialist.
Connor, Stibbe and Pathy all paid for their tickets; though the exact price hasn’t been released, it’s likely in the tens of millions, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini suggested. While aboard, the crew will be engaging in a number of scientific experiments — and indeed, Axiom has stressed the scientific, rather than touristy, nature of the flight.
“I think there’s an important role for space tourism, but that’s not what Axiom is about,” López-Alegría told reporters in February. The crew “are not space tourists,” he said.
A second mission to be led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Ax-2, is planned for early 2023.
Axiom is not only in the business of private spaceflight — the company was also tapped by NASA to install commercial modules on the ISS, with the first module going up in late 2024. The company’s eventual aim is to separate the modules and operate them as a new station upon the ISS’ retirement at the end of the decade.
“This mission really represents a significant milestone for our plans for the development of a sustainable [low Earth orbit] economy,” Angela Hart, NASA’s commercial LEO program manager, said during a media briefing Thursday.