Houston-based start-up Axiom Space has unveiled the first private International Space Station crew in the history of mankind, who will pay $55 million each to fly on a SpaceX rocket to the station in early 2022.
The first private ISS crew includes former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space vice president Michael López-Alegria, who will serve as Ax-1's commander, real estate and tech entrepeneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor, who will serve as the mission's pilot, and Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe and Canadian financier Mark Pathy, who will each serve as mission specialists.
"We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of people on Earth, and I'm glad to say we've done that with this group," Axiom Space president and CEO Mike Suffredini said in a press release. "This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space--and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home."
Each of the private astronauts had to pass medical tests and will get 15 weeks of training, according to Suffredini. The crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.
López-Alegría, who flew to space four times over a 20-year, record-setting career at NASA and last visited the ISS in 2007, will become the first person to ever command both a civil and a commercial human spaceflight mission.
“This collection of pioneers – the first space crew of its kind – represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said. “I know from firsthand experience that what humans encounter in space is profound and propels them to make more meaningful contributions on returning to Earth. And as much as any astronaut who has come before them, the members of this crew have accomplished the sorts of things in life that equip them to accept that responsibility, act on that revelation, and make a truly global impact. I look forward to leading this crew and to their next meaningful and productive contributions to the human story, both on orbit and back home.”
The 70-year-old Connor will become the second-oldest person to fly in space, after John Glenn's shuttle flight in 1998 at age 77. He'll also serve under Lopez-Alegria as the capsule pilot. Connor has been the managing partner of the Ohio-based real estate investment firm The Connor Group since 2003, which has more than $3 billion in assets. Connor will collaborate with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic on research projects and intends to provide instructional lessons to students at Dayton Early College Academy in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
Pathy, who is set to become Canada's 11th astronaut, is the cheif executive officer and chairman of the Montreal-based investment firm MAVRIK Corp and publicly-traded music company Stingray group. Pathy will collaborate with the Canadian Space Agency as well as the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who are helping identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission.
Stibbe, who will become Israel's second astronaut, is a former Israeli Air Force pilot and close personal friend of Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the space shuttle Columbia accident in 2003. Stibbe plans to conduct scientific experiments of Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs coordinated by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science & Technology and to undertake educational activities from orbit to inspire Israeli children, youth, and educators.
Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will serve as Ax-1’s backup commander, while John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tenn. is the backup mission pilot.
Russia has been in the off-the-planet tourism business for years, selling rides to the International Space Station since 2001.
Other space companies like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin plan to take paying customers on up-and-down flights lasting just minutes. These trips — much more affordable with seats going for hundreds of thousands versus millions — could kick off this year.
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Axiom plans about two private missions a year to the space station. It also is working to launch its own live-in compartments to the station as early as 2024. This section would be detached from the station once it's retired by NASA and the international partners, and become the world's first free-flying, privately developed, internationally available space station which will be used for research, manufacturing and commerce in low earth orbit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report