Millionaire space tourists welcomed aboard space station after paying $55 million each | Science and technology news
Three multimillionaire businessmen have docked with and entered the International Space Station in what has been hailed as a milestone in commercial space exploration.
Next to a pensioner NASA Astronaut, the men lifted off from Florida on Friday as part of a private SpaceX launch.
The four men were welcomed aboard the ISS by crew on Saturday as NASA partnered with Russia to host guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.
The American, Canadian and Israeli businessmen each paid $55 million (£42 million) for the rocket ride and accommodation.
The launch, codenamed Ax-1, was commissioned by Axiom Space, a US space infrastructure developer.
Michael López-Alegría, the former NASA astronaut who escorted the men, is the company’s vice president of business development.
The launch was the sixth manned spaceflight performed by SpaceX and the first private launch to dock with the ISS.
The four men say they are not tourists as they will be conducting commercial scientific research on board, including “self-assembly technology for satellites and future space habitats, cancer stem cell studies and air purification.”
Axiom describes the mission as the first step in building a commercial space station that NASA expects to lift off over the next few years and ultimately lead to bringing down the ISS.
The US response to the Russian war in Ukraine has resulted in the Roscosmos boss agreeing no longer work together about the international project.
NASA’s plans, ahead of the invasion and sanctions, could mean the ISS will be deorbited in January 2031 crashed into a “spaceship graveyard” in the most remote part of the earth’s surface.
The four astronauts who arrived on Saturday will have access to the entire ISS – except for the Russian section – and will live alongside three Americans and one German.
The three paying customers are: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Montreal’s Mavrik Corp; and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.
Russia has hosted visitors on the space station and before that on the Mir station for decades.
A Russian film crew was flown in last fall, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.
Now, after years of resisting space station tourists, NASA is finally stepping in.
Mr. Lopez-Alegria said he wanted to avoid speaking about politics and the crisis in Ukraine while he was on the space station.
“I honestly think it won’t be uncomfortable. I mean, maybe a little bit,” he said, adding that he expects the “collaborative spirit to shine through.”
Mr. Stibbe expressed his excitement before launch and performed a little dance when he arrived at the rocket at Kennedy Space Center.
The business people are the last people to benefit from the opening of space to those who can afford it.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company is taking customers on 10-minute trips to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic is expected to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.
Mr. Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months on the space station 15 years ago, said SpaceX and NASA have been upfront with passengers about the risks of space travel.
“I think there’s no excitement about what the dangers are or what the bad days might be like,” he told the Associated Press before the flight.
Each visitor has a plethora of experiments to undertake during their stay — which is partly why they don’t like being called a space tourist.
“They’re not up there to glue their noses to the window,” said Michael Suffredini, co-founder and president of Axiom.
Friday’s launch marks the second private charter for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day orbit last year.
Axiom is targeting its second private flight to the space station next year. Word is that a contestant in a future launch will be selected by a reality TV show.
More client trips will follow, with Axiom adding dedicated spaces to the wraparound complex beginning in 2024.
The automated SpaceX capsule is scheduled to be back with the fours on April 19th.