SpaceX launches three private visitors to space station for £42m each
SpaceX has launched three rich businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station for more than a week’s stay, as Nasa joins Russia in hosting guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.
It is SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for Nasa.
Arriving at the space station on Saturday will be an American, a Canadian and an Israeli who run investment, property and other companies.
They’re paying 55 million dollars (£42 million) each for the rocket ride and accommodation, all meals included.
Russia has been hosting tourists at the space station — and before that the Mir station — for decades. Last autumn, a Russian movie crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.
Nasa is finally getting into the act after years of opposing space station visitors.
Their tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station, where they will need permission from the three cosmonauts on board.
Three Americans and a German also live up there.
Former Nasa astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, the chaperone, plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while he is at the space station.
“I honestly think that it won’t be awkward. I mean maybe a tiny bit,” he said. He expects the “spirit of collaboration will shine through”.
The private Axiom Space company arranged the visit with Nasa for its three paying customers: Larry Connor of Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Montreal’s Mavrik Corp; and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.
SpaceX and Nasa have been upfront with them about the risks of spaceflight, said Mr Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months at the space station 15 years ago.
“There’s no fuzz, I think, on what the dangers are or what the bad days could look like,” he told the Associated Press before the flight.
Each visitor has a full slate of experiments to conduct during their nine to 10 days there, one reason they do not like to be called space tourists.
“They’re not up there to paste their nose on the window,” said Axiom’s co-founder and president Michael Suffredini, a former Nasa space station programme manager.
The three businessmen are the latest to take advantage of the opening of space to those with deep pockets.
Jeff Bezos’s rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on 10-minute rides to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic expects to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.
Friday‘s flight is the second private charter for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day orbit ride last year.
Axiom is targeting next year for its second private flight to the space station. More customer trips will follow, with Axiom adding its own rooms to the orbiting complex beginning in 2024.
After about five years, the company plans to detach its compartments to form a self-sustaining station — one of several commercial outposts intended to replace the space station once it is retired and Nasa shifts to the moon.
The automated SpaceX capsule is due back with the four on April 19.
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