Space tourists paying $71 million each to be first all-private International Space Station crew

The crew will fly in a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The crew will fly in a SpaceX Dragon capsule. Photo: NASA

The first fully private, multi-person space station crew has been introduced: Three men who are each paying $US55 million ($71 million) to fly on a SpaceX rocket.

They will be led by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the trip for next January.

“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station (ISS). It’s never been done before,” said Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA.

Space tourists have taken individual flights to the ISS aboard Russian rockets, but this will be the first flight carrying multiple private astronauts, on a private rocket.

While mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity,” Mr Suffredini told The Associated Press.

The first 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 lift-off from Cape Canaveral.

The first crew Larry Connor, mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe. Photo: AP/Axiom Space

Russia had been in the off-the-planet tourism business since 2001, selling rides to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz spacecraft.

That program, brokered by private company Space Adventures, sent seven paying customers on multi-days visits to the ISS but was stopped in 2009 when crew size on the station increased.

The cost of those trips ranged from $US20 million to $US25 million.

NASA announced plans for a resumption of private tourism to the ISS in June 2019, following a 2017 announcement that returning humans to space was a priority of then-president Donald Trump’s administration.

Other space companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s 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.

Axiom’s first customers include Larry Connor, a real estate and tech entrepreneur from Dayton, Ohio, Canadian financier Mark Pathy and Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, a close friend of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the space shuttle Columbia accident in 2003.

“These guys are all very involved and doing it for kind of the betterment of their communities and countries, and so we couldn’t be happier with this makeup of the first crew because of their drive and their interest,” Mr Suffredini said.

Each of these first paying customers intends to perform science research in orbit, he said, along with educational outreach.

Captain Lopez-Alegria, a former space station resident and spacewalking leader, called the group a “collection of pioneers.”

Tom Cruise was mentioned last year as a potential crew member: NASA top officials confirmed he was interested in filming a movie at the space station.

There has been no word on whether Cruise will catch the next Axiom flight and Mr Suffredini has declined to comment.

Each of the private astronauts had to pass medical tests and will get 15 weeks of training, according to Mr Suffredini.

The 70-year-old Mr Connor will become the second-oldest person to fly in space, after John Glenn’s shuttle flight in 1998 at age 77.

He will also serve under Captain Lopez-Alegria as the capsule pilot.

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 beginning in 2024.

This section would be detached from the station once it is retired by NASA and the international partners, and become its own private outpost.


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