SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavor crew is seen docking with the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.
A couple of investors join the first fully private flight to the International Space Station – not as financiers, but as passenger passengers.
Houston-based startup Axiom Space unveiled on Tuesday that real estate investor Larry Connor and Canadian investor Mark Pathy will fly on his upcoming AX-1 assignment. The two join ex-NASA astronaut Michael Lopez Alegria, who will be the captain of the flight, and a former Israeli fighter pilot Eitan Stibi. Connor will be the pilot of the mission, making him the first private spaceflight pilot.
Last year, Axiom signed a deal with SpaceX for the mission. Elon Musk The company is set to launch its entire private crew no later than January 2022, using the Crew Dragon capsule to transport them to the space station. The mission comes at a hefty price – $ 55 million per person – but it will get them an eight-day stay on the space station.
„It wasn’t a whole crew of non-professional astronauts,“ Lopez Alegria told CNBC. „This is really pioneering, and I think it’s very important to have a successful and safe mission because we’re already paving the way for a lot of things to happen after us.“
López-Alegría flew into space four times for NASA as a professional astronaut but now works for Axiom. He said he would lead them through 15 weeks of training starting in the fall, command the spacecraft and make sure the other three crew members „have a safe and productive time.“
The AX-1 was originally scheduled to launch in October 2021, but has slipped into early 2022. Lopez-Alegria added that Axiom wants to fly „a few missions per year“, so future missions are on board. Speculation abounded that the AX-1 will feature Tom Cruise, as NASA announced last year that it is working with Cruise To shoot a movie on the International Space Station.
Connor has led the Connor Group since 2003, creating an Ohio-based real estate investment firm with assets of more than $ 3 billion. Pathy, who is set to become the 11th Canadian astronaut, is the CEO and chairman of the MAVRIK Corp family office fund, as well as the chairman of the Montreal-based music company Stingray Group.
Steppe will be the second Israeli astronaut – the first was Ilan Ramon, a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia, who was killed in February 2003 when Colombia crashed while returning. Steppe was a close friend of Ramon.
AX-1 „100% not holiday“
While Space tourism is an emerging subsector of the space industryAxiom special passengers don’t fit into this category.
„We absolutely don’t think we’re space tourists,“ Connor told CNBC.
Likewise, Lopez Alegria stressed that the 10-day mission „is not 100% vacation for these guys.“
„They really focus on having this mission to promote a benefit to the community, so all of them are working on aviation programs,“ said Lopez Alegria. „They collaborate with various institutions, hospitals, and other research entities, as well as communicate while they are there.“
Each of the three has research missions that they will conduct on behalf of other organizations. Connor collaborates with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. Meanwhile, Pathé is working with the Canadian Space Agency and Montreal Children’s Hospital. Finally, Stibbe works on behalf of the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency.
Connor said, „I volunteered myself to be a test subject.“ „We are not going to be a bystander; we will go there to do research and hope to add some value to the people.“
Connor and Pathe together witnessed SpaceX’s first astronaut launch, the Demo-2 mission in May, which was the first rocket to be personally launched.
Special flight into space
The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft in the hangar ahead of the Crew-1 mission
SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon with significant funding from NASA, as the spacecraft is designed to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. SpaceX has launched two crews of NASA astronauts so far, including First operational mission called Crew-1 in November.
Although NASA helped develop it, Musk owns and operates the spacecraft and missile – with Axiom managing the mission and preparing the astronauts for the launch.
The AX-1 crew has yet to begin its formal training, but Connor said they have stopped by SpaceX’s headquarters in Los Angeles to put on a spacesuit and see the spacecraft.
“The Crew Dragon capsule, in terms of quality and professionalism, is absolutely fantastic,” Connor said. „And you can say that, [as a group SpaceX is] Exceptionally talented and committed to the mission. „
„NASA and SpaceX have nothing less than an impressive safety record,“ Connor emphasized, which he said he reviewed with his family when considering the dangers of flying into space.
„We have reached the point where we are not only confident, but we also feel comfortable that we are able to do a valuable and safe mission,“ said Connor.
Members of the NASA SpaceX Crew-1 crew sit in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during training. From left to right: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Oliver, Mike Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The AX-1 is expected to use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle „flexibility“ after returning from its current Crew-1 mission. While the company regularly lands and reuses its Falcon 9 rocket boosters and its Cargo Dragon capsules, the AX-1 will likely be the first time the Crew Dragon spacecraft has been reused.
„I’m very comfortable with that,“ said Lopez Alegria. „Reuse is something that has always made sense in human spaceflight.“
An expensive endeavor
The Unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on the International Space Station with its nose cone open reveals the docking mechanism while approaching the station.
At $ 55 million for a seat, it’s no surprise that the first private space crew included high net worth individuals like Connor and Bathie. The first said it was „a question and a fair concern“ that some would criticize private spaceflight as being only for the wealthy.
„We have many local problems and challenges, as well as international challenges, but does this mean that we should forget the future?“ Connor asked. „And if you really think about the future, my point is that space is the next extreme, so shouldn’t we try to explore it and in some respects try to pioneer it?“
Lopez-Alegria described the mission as „the first crack in the door toward the democratization of space,“ following closely in the wake of NASA’s decision in 2019 to allow special missions to visit the International Space Station. NASA will charge each person $ 35,000 per day while on board, as compensation for needed services such as food and data use.
„It’s not a very democratic category at the moment because of the cost of the flights, but we totally expect the costs to start falling,“ said Lopez Alegria. „At some point we’ll be able to introduce these to the guy on the street. It’ll take some time but that’s the goal, and you have to start somewhere.“
For Connor, critics of private spaceflight have been asked to „think long-term“ 25 years or more from now.
„Would it be uncommon for people to go into space? I think and I hope the answer is no. So someone has to start it, someone has to do the exploration and set the standards, so I hope people look that way,“ Connor said.
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