SpaceX launches three rich businessmen to space station for $55m each in first private mission | World News
SpaceX launched three businessmen into orbit on Friday in the first wholly private mission to the International Space Station.
Accompanied by their astronaut escort, the men will spend more than a week in space as NASA joins Russia in hosting guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.
Friday’s launch marks SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for NASA.
An American, Canadian and Israeli will arrive at the space station on Saturday after paying $55m (£42m) each for the rocket ride and accommodations, all meals included.
The flight, organised by the Houston-based company Axiom Space, lifted off at 11:17am EST from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“That was a hell of a ride,” crewmember Michael López-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut who now serves as the vice president of business development for Axiom Space, radioed to mission controllers after reaching orbit.
The visitors’ tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station, and three Americans and a German also live up there.
Russia has been hosting tourists at the space station for decades, and before that the Mir station.
Last autumn, a Russian movie crew was flown up, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.
Now, after years of opposing space station visitors, NASA is finally getting on board.
Mr Lopez-Alegria said he plans to avoid talking about politics and the Russia-Ukraine war while he’s at the space station.
He said: “I honestly think that it won’t be awkward. I mean maybe a tiny bit”,
But he added that he expects the “spirit of collaboration will shine through”.
The three paying customers are: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and chief executive of Montreal’s Mavrik Corp; and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.
Mr Stibbe expressed his excitement ahead of the launch, doing a little dance when he arrived at the rocket at Kennedy Space Center.
The businessmen are the latest people to take advantage of the opening of space to those who can afford to do so.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on 10-minute rides to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic is expecting to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.
Mr Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months at the space station 15 years ago, said SpaceX and NASA have been upfront with the passengers about the risks of spaceflight.
“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.
Every visitor has a full state of experiments to conduct during their stay – which is partly why they don’t like being called space tourists.
“They’re not up there to paste their nose on the window,” said Axiom’s co-founder and president, Michael Suffredini.
Friday’s launch 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.
The automated SpaceX capsule is due back with the four on 19 April.