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


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

The trip was brokered by Houston, Texas-based startup Axiom Space, which seeks to book rocket flights, provide all necessary training and coordinate flights to the ISS for anyone who can afford it. . All of this is in line with the US government and private sector goal of driving 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 magnate Larry Connor.

After reaching the ISS aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, they joined seven professional astronauts already aboard the space station, including three NASA astronauts, a 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 various wealthy thrill seekers. in past years. But this is the first mission that includes a crew made up entirely of private citizens without active members of a government astronaut corps. It is also the first time that private citizens have traveled to the ISS aboard a US-made spacecraft.

Here’s 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 the financial terms of that specific mission — beyond saying at a conference call. press 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, since the ISS is funded and operated by the government.

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

Food alone costs $2,000 per day, per person, in space. Getting supplies to and from the space station for a commercial crew costs an additional $88,000 to $164,000 per person per day. For each mission, providing the necessary NASA astronaut support will cost commercial customers an additional $5.2 million, and all mission support and planning that NASA lends will be an additional $4.8 million. .

Who fly ?

Lopez-Alegría, a veteran of four space trips between 1995 and 2007 while at NASA, is commanding this mission as an Axiom employee.
SpaceX launch: tourist mission docks with ISS.  Here’s everything you need to know
For more on all three paying customers, check out our coverage here.

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

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

US-Russian relations on the ground, however, came to a head amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The United States and its allies imposed heavy sanctions on Russia, and the country retaliated in many ways, including refusing to sell Russian rocket engines to American companies. The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, even took to social media to threaten to pull out of the ISS deal.

Despite all the bluster, NASA has repeatedly sought reassurance that, behind the scenes, NASA and its Russian counterparts are working together seamlessly.

“NASA is aware of recent comments regarding the International Space Station. U.S. sanctions and export control measures continue to enable U.S.-Russian civil space cooperation on the space station,” said the NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, in a recent press release. “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 currently simmering question in the spaceflight community.

The US government has traditionally awarded astronaut wings to anyone traveling more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. But commercial astronaut wings — a relatively new designation assigned by the Federal Aviation Administration — might not be given out as generously.

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 above the 50 mile threshold on a website.
SpaceX launch: tourist mission docks with ISS.  Here’s everything you need to know

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

Not everyone is overly concerned about mincing words.
“If you strap your butt to a rocket, I think it’s worth something,” former NASA astronaut Terry Virts told National Geographic when asked about the issue. “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 you’re the commander of an interplanetary space vehicle. Those are two different things.”
SpaceX launch: tourist mission docks with ISS.  Here’s everything you need to know

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

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

The crew underwent extensive training for this mission, taking on many of the same duties as professional astronauts-in-training. But the fact is that the three paying customers for this flight – Stibbe, Pathy and Connor – were not selected from a pool of thousands of applicants and don’t devote much of their lives to the effort.

Axiom itself has been more flippant about word usage 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 in space?

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

Connor will research 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. This research will be done in partnership with the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.

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

Stibbe will also research and focus 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 nonprofit space education organization named for Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster. Stibbe’s Axiom Biography says he and Ramon shared a “close” friendship. .

During downtime, the crew will also have the chance to enjoy unobstructed views of Earth. And, at some point, they will share a meal with the other astronauts on board. Their food was prepared in partnership with celebrity chef and philanthropist Jose Andrés. Their meals “draw on traditional flavors and dishes from Commander López-Alegría’s native Spain,” according to Axiom.

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