SpaceX launch: Tourism mission docks with the ISS. Here’s everything you need to know

The mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday morning. And the spacecraft, which separated from the rocket after reaching orbit, spent some 20 hours flying freely through orbit as it maneuvered closer to the ISS.

The trip was brokered by the Houston, Texas-based startup Axiom Space, which is looking to book rocket trips, provide all necessary training and coordinate flights to the ISS for anyone who can afford it. It’s all in line with the goal of the US government and the private sector to boost commercial activity on the ISS and beyond.

Aboard this mission, called AX-1, are Michael Lopez-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut turned Axiom employee who commands the mission; Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe; Canadian investor Mark Pathy; and Ohio-based real estate mogul Larry Connor.

After arriving at the ISS aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, they joined seven professional astronauts already aboard the space station, including three NASA astronauts, one German astronaut, and three Russian cosmonauts.

It’s not the first time paying customers or non-astronauts have visited the ISS, as Russia has sold seats on its Soyuz spacecraft to a number of wealthy thrill-seekers. in years past. But this is the first mission to include a crew made up entirely of private citizens with no active members of a government astronaut corps. It is also the first time private citizens have traveled to the ISS in a US-made spacecraft.

Here is everything you need to know.

How much did all this cost?

Axiom previously disclosed a price of $55 million per seat for a 10-day trip to the ISS, but the company declined to comment on financial terms for this specific mission, beyond saying at a press conference last year that the price is in the “tens of millions.”

The mission is made possible by very close coordination between Axiom, SpaceX and NASA, as the ISS is funded and operated by the government.

And the space agency has revealed some details about how much it will charge for the use of its 20-year-old orbiting laboratory.

Food alone costs $2,000 per day, per person, in the space. Getting supplies to and from the space station for a commercial crew costs another $88,000 to $164,000 per person, per day. For each mission, having the necessary support from NASA astronauts will cost commercial customers another $5.2 million, and all of NASA’s mission planning and support is another $4.8 million.

Who is flying?

López-Alegría, a veteran of four trips to space between 1995 and 2007 during his time with NASA, is commanding this mission as an Axiom employee.
Ax-1 crew (from left to right) Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Michael López-Alegría and Eytan Stibbe.
For more information on the three paying customers, check out our coverage here.

Is it safe to go to the ISS, given the conflict in Russia?

Russia is America’s main partner on the ISS, and the space station has long been hailed as a symbol of post-Cold War cooperation.

However, US-Russian relations on the ground have reached a fever pitch amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The United States and its allies have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia, and the country has retaliated in numerous ways, including by refusing to sell Russian rocket engines to American companies. The head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, even took to social media to threaten to withdraw from the ISS deal.

Despite all the boasting, NASA has repeatedly tried to ensure that, behind the scenes, NASA and its Russian counterparts are working together seamlessly.

“NASA is aware of recent comments regarding the International Space Station. United States sanctions and export control measures continue to allow civil space cooperation between the United States and Russia on the space station,” said NASA administrator NASA, Bill Nelson, in a recent statement. “The professional relationship between our international partners, astronauts and cosmonauts continues for the safety and mission of all aboard the ISS.”

Are they astronauts or tourists?

This is a question that is brewing in the spaceflight community right now.

Traditionally, the US government has awarded astronaut wings to anyone who travels more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. But commercial astronaut wings, a relatively new designation granted by the Federal Aviation Administration, might not be distributed as freely.

Last year, the FAA decided to end the entire Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program on January 1, 2022. Now, the FAA plans to simply list the names of everyone who flies over the 50-mile threshold on a website.
First on CNN: America gives Bezos, Branson and Shatner their astronaut wings

Whether it’s fair to refer to people who pay for their trip to space as “astronauts” is an open question, and countless observers, including NASA astronauts, have weighed in.

Not everyone is too concerned with cutting words.
“If you’re tying your butt to a rocket, I think it’s worth it,” former NASA astronaut Terry Virts told National Geographic when asked about it. “When I was an F-16 pilot, I wasn’t jealous that Cessna pilots were called pilots. I think everyone will know if you paid to be a passenger on a five-minute suborbital flight or if you’re the commander of an interplanetary space vehicle. Those are two different things.”

If you ask the AX-1 crew, they don’t like being called “tourists.”

“This mission is very different from what you may have heard in some of the recent missions, especially suborbital ones. We are not space tourists,” López-Alegría told reporters earlier this month, referring to the brief supersonic flights made by Jeff . Bezos’s company, Blue Origin. “I think there’s an important role for space tourism, but that’s not what Axiom is about.”

The crew underwent extensive training for this mission, taking on many of the same tasks as professional astronauts in training. But the fact is that the three paying customers on this flight (Stibbe, Pathy and Connor) were not selected from a pool of thousands of applicants and are not devoting much of their lives to the effort.

Axiom itself has been more frivolous about its use of words in the past.

“Commercial human spaceflight. Space tourism. Whatever you call it, it’s happening. And soon,” the company wrote on its website.

What will they do while they are in space?

Each of the crew members has a list of research projects they plan to work on.

Connor will do some research on how spaceflight affects senescent cells, which are cells that have ceased the normal replication process and are “linked to multiple age-related diseases,” according to Axiom. That research will be done in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.

Among the items on Pathy’s to-do list are some additional medical research, more focused on children’s health, which she will conduct in partnership with several Canadian hospitals, and some conservation awareness initiatives.

Stibbe will also do some research, focusing on “educational and artistic activities to connect the younger generation in Israel and around the world,” according to Axiom. Stibbe flies on behalf of the Ramon Foundation, a space education nonprofit named after Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Stibbe’s Axiom biography says that he and Ramon shared a “close” friendship. .

During downtime, the crew will also have the opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of Earth. And, at some point, they will share a meal with the other astronauts on board. Their food was prepared in collaboration with celebrity chef and philanthropist José Andrés. His meals “are based on traditional flavors and dishes from Comandante López-Alegría’s native Spain,” according to Axiom.

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