Four passengers flew to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon capsule. NASA commercialized the stay.
New step in the commercialization of space. The American start-up Axiom is carrying out the first 100% private space mission. Three businessmen and former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, vice president of Axiom in charge of commercial activities, took off on Friday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company. Direction: the International Space Station (ISS) where the Crew Dragon must moor this Saturday morning. The flight was approved by NASA, which trained the four passengers and was paid for the eight days of their stay, 400 km from Earth. On board the ISS, they will be in the company of three American astronauts, three Russians and a German.
Tourists will have plenty of time to admire the blue planet, hanging in the dark of the cosmos, and marvel at the sixteen sunrises, which punctuate each rotation of the ISS around the Earth. But they also agreed to carry out twenty-five medical and scientific experiments on aging, heart health, or even stem cells on behalf of universities. “They are not there to stick their noses to the portholes. They are there to do meaningful research, each in their own way.”insists Michael Suffredini, co-founder of Axiom.
The four passengers refuse to be likened to “space tourists”. It’s necessary “differentiating between tourists and private astronauts”, pleads Larry Connor, one of the passengers, who made his fortune in real estate. The first ones “spend ten to fifteen hours training, five to ten minutes in space. (…) We spent between 750 and more than 1000 hours training », he says. One way to justify these private flights reserved for a clientele of ultra-rich – a round trip costs some 40 million dollars per person – which raise strong criticism, especially in Europe. But also a way to stand out from tourists, who have made flea jumps at the frontier of space (between 80 and 100 km above sea level) since last summer. Either aboard the New Shepard, the small rocket of Blue Origin, the space company of Jeff Bezos, or the SpaceShipTwo of Virgin Galactic, the company of Richard Branson.
Soon a luxury hotel in space
This is not the first time that the ISS has welcomed non-professional visitors. At the end of December 2021, the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa spent twelve days there. Last October, a Russian actress and her director also stayed there to shoot sequences for a film. A first in orbit! But these missions had been organized by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, aboard the Soyuz capsule with a professional cosmonaut on board.
For Axiom, which has signed for three other missions with SpaceX, this is the first step in a larger project to build a private space station. Project to which Thales Alenia Space supplies the first two pressurized modules, decorated by Philippe Stark, of the first private space station in history. These modules must be launched in 2024 and 2025 to be clipped to the ISS. Then they will detach when the ISS is retired by 2030.
Two other private stations are under development. Orbital Reef, is piloted by Blue Origin in partnership with Sierra Nevada. With a capacity of ten passengers, it must “open its doors” in 2025-2026. The second, called Starlab, was designed by the satellite and space services company Nanoracks, associated with Lockheed Martin. It should enter service from 2027. Finally, the Voyager Station project by Orbital Assembly Corp is even more ambitious. This is a luxury space hotel, with a capacity of 400 passengers, which will offer, in addition to rooms, the same services (restaurants, bars, cinema, sports halls, spa, etc.) as a passenger liner. cruises. Inauguration planned for 2027.
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