SpaceX is heading to the International Space Station with its first all-private astronaut crew organized by Axiom Space, a startup building a commercial space station to replace the current one, which is expected to be decommissioned by the end of the decade.
It’s a milestone for NASA, which has been working with companies like Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef and Nanoracks’ Starlab, to create a WeWork of industrial parks in low Earth orbit to encourage space travel.
The Ax-1 mission is being led by retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who’s also Axiom’s vice president of business development. His crewmates are three financiers: Larry Connor of the U.S., Canada’s Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe from Israel. Each paid about $55 million for their ticket, Axiom cofounder Kim Ghaffarian confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday. The 10-day adventure includes commercial activities, lab experiments, and gourmet food created by celebrity chef Jose Andres.
Demand has been high, with the company having sold spots on the next two missions, Ghaffarian said. “We’re now trying to sell some seats on Ax-4.”
How to watch
Liftoff is set for Friday at 11:17 a.m. local time in Florida from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, with a backup launch planned for Saturday at 10:54 a.m. The mission, originally scheduled for Feb. 21, was delayed several times due to missed launch windows.
The event is being livestreamed, about three hours before and fifteen minutes after launch, on the Axiom Space, SpaceX and NASA websites. The webcasts will resume on Saturday at around 7:30 a.m. local time in Florida, for the docking, hatch opening and welcoming ceremony.
Greeting the Axiom crew will be astronauts currently stationed on the space station: Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn from the U.S.; Matthias Maurer from Germany; and Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artmyev, and Dennis Matveev from Russia.
Although Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has been tweeting about ending cooperation on the space station, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Kathy Leuders, told Bloomberg that it remains peaceful place where the astronauts live and work together. NASA has been making moves to reduce reliance on the Russian spacecraft Soyuz for transport by increasing orders for SpaceX Crew Dragon flights.
Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.