The first fully private mission to the International Space Station is set to blast off Friday with a four-member crew from startup company Axiom Space. The partnership has been hailed by NASA which sees it as a key step in its goal to commercialize the region of space known as “low Earth orbit”. It is leaving the agency to focus on more ambitious endeavors deeper into the cosmos.
Takeoff is set for 11:17 am from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX rocket. Commanding the Axiom-1 mission will be former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria who is a dual citizen of the United States and Spain.
Lopez-Alegria joined by three paying crewmates. These are American real estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian businessman Mark Pathy and Israeli former fighter pilot and entrepreneur Eytan Stibbe.
The widely reported price for tickets is $55 million which includes eight days on the outpost. But like the attention-grabbing suborbital flights carried out by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, Axiom says its mission shouldn’t be considered tourism.
On board the ISS the quartet will carry out scientific research projects. This includes on aging in space, experiments with stem cells and a technology demonstration of a self-assembling spacecraft.
Crewmember Stibbe plans to carry out a tribute to his friend Ilan Ramon who is Israel’s first astronaut and died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spaceship disintegrated upon reentry.
Surviving pages from Ramon’s space diary will be brought to the station by Stibbe. The Axiom crew will live and work alongside the station’s regular crew. The company has partnered for a total of four missions with SpaceX and NASA has already approved in principle the second which is Ax-2.
Axiom sees the voyages as the first steps of a grander goal. The plan is for it to initially be attached to the ISS.