SpaceX launch: here’s who is aboard the ISS’s first completely private space tourism mission


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CNN Business

SpaceX returns to the launch pad, this time to bring a group of four individuals into orbit for the first-of-its-kind trip to the International Space Station.

The trip was organized by Axiom Space, a private startup that book trips to SpaceX and coordinates ISS flights for anyone who can afford it.

The passengers of the trip – which includes former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Allegria, who will lead the mission as an Axiom employee, and three paying customers – are due to depart from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday at 12:05 ET. They will ride in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, the same capsule that SpaceX has already used to transport NASA astronauts to the ISS. The capsule rises into orbit on top of one of the 230-foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.

The capsule will then separate from the rocket and will fly freely in space all Thursday as the spacecraft slowly maneuvers closer to the ISS. It is scheduled to dock with the space station around 3 a.m. ET on Friday.

This mission, called AX-1, will be the first time in history that private citizens or non-professional astronauts will launch on the ISS from American soil. And this is the first time that Axiom, which organized and mediated this mission with SpaceX, hopes that there will be many similar flights for anyone who can afford it.

The AX-1 mission is also only the second space tourism flight for SpaceX since the launch of four individuals in September 2021 in a three-day free flight in orbit that flew even higher than the ISS.

During their eight-day stay on the space station, the AX-1 crew will conduct some scientific experiments, break bread with professional astronauts who are already aboard a space station the size of a football field, and enjoy the vast views of our home planet. below.

Lopez-Allegria, 63, made four space trips between 1995 and 2007 while working at NASA. He left the space agency in 2012 and joined Axiom a few years later to return to space – but as a private astronaut, not an official member of the corps.

Michael Lopez-Allegria.

Axiom acts as an intermediary between payment customers who want to make a multimillion-dollar space trip, book flights to SpaceX, negotiate with NASA and train future space travelers. Axiom hopes to make these flights regular, since a few years ago NASA agreed to open the ISS to space tourism and other commercial enterprises.

It is unclear how much these trips cost the client. Although previously published prices indicated that the trip to the ISS was worth $ 55 million per seat, Axiom declined to confirm that figure this week. “Axiom Space does not disclose financial terms,” ​​Axiom spokeswoman Bettina Inclan told CNN Buisness.

There are three payment customers on this flight. They are all wealthy white people who continue the trend that is affecting the commercial space flight sector and its inaccessibility to more diverse segments of the population. The vast majority of people who could still afford to pay for space travel – whether on SpaceX flights or in suborbital missions like those offered by Blue Origin – were white businessmen. This shows how far the reality is from the promised dream of outer space, which comes from entrepreneurs who claim that space is “for everyone”, and the commercialization of space “democratizes it” against the background of increasing income inequality. At such a high price, space in the foreseeable future will remain commercially available to only a few elite individuals. While the goal is to eventually drastically reduce the cost of space travel, hopefully make ticket prices affordable for more people until it’s clear how and when this will happen.

Larry Connor.

72-year-old Larry Connor is a real estate mogul from Dayton, Ohio. He founded The Connor Group, which has developments in 16 markets across the country and has assets of more than $ 3.5 billion, according to the company’s website. He is an avid adventurer, riding cars and climbing mountains.

He also has experience as a private pilot and has participated in aerobatics competitions and he will be a designated pilot for this mission. (It should be noted that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is fully autonomous, although space pilots are trained to be prepared to take control if something goes wrong.)

“My journey really started seven or eight years ago. I’ve always been interested in space, and I started thinking about it after reading about an American who went to Russia and went to the “Union” [spacecraft]”- he said in an interview with the Dayton Society of Natural History last year after his plans to fly the AX-1 were revealed.

Connor probably meant one U.S. citizen who booked a flight to the ISS through Space Adventures, a company that has booked seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft for tourists since the early 2000s. These flights have always been coordinated with the Russian Space Agency and have included official Russian astronauts. The AX-1 mission will be the first to include a crew made up entirely of private astronauts.

Connor said he decided to book a mission to “challenge”.

“We will really prepare according to the professional standards of astronauts,” he said.

Mark Patty.

Mark Patty, 52, is the founder and CEO of Canadian investment firm and family office Mavrik Corp. The website claims that Maurice is “particularly focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and responsible investing”, although not many of his investment decisions are public. .

CB Insights, which tracks private investment, lists only one known investment. He supported a Canadian startup called Ferme d’hiver, which says it “offers tools to automate agriculture based on artificial intelligence.”

Pathy is also a former CEO of the shipping company Fednav, which is Pathy’s family business.

On the AX-1 mission, Patty told CTV News: “It’s big money. I feel very happy to be able to afford such a trip. Obviously not many can. But at the same time, fortunately, I do not have to choose between something like this or do charity.

He added that flying into space has been a dream since I was a young child and watching Captain Kirk jump across the universe at the Enterprise.

Eitan Stebbe.

Eitan Stebbe, 64, is an Israeli businessman.

According to his biography Axiom, Stibbe, a former fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, founded Vital Capital ten years ago. Its website claims that the company is investing in companies in sectors such as food and healthcare in developing regions, particularly across Africa, for “high-yield opportunities”.

Axiom says Stibb’s voyage is “in collaboration” with the Ramon Foundation, a nonprofit space education organization named after Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 Columbia shuttle crash. and Ramon united a “close” friendship. Stibbe will be only the second Israeli to go into space.

He announced his decision to join the AX-1 crew at a ceremony at the Israeli president’s residence in 2020, and it was met with criticism from the Israeli press, which pointed to alleged deals in the past Stibbe, particularly related to allegations of military equipment trafficking. According to a Stibbe spokesman, while working for LR Group, an investment and development group he left in 2011.

In particular, reports allege that Stibbe was involved in the sale of military aircraft in Angola, which was embroiled in a brutal civil war from the 1970s to 2002.

The accusations go back to reports by the Israeli news site Haaretz.

In a 2012 television interview conducted in Hebrew and translated by Israeli News and CNN Business, Steeb also confirmed his involvement.

“We helped Angola end the war by bringing in interceptor planes and two Su-27 fighters from Uzbekistan,” he said. “Their presence in the country has stopped flights supplying weapons, food and ammunition, as well as the export of illegal diamonds from Angola. A year and a half later the war ended.

A statement issued by CNN Business on behalf of Stibbe said that “LR Group’s business in Angola was almost exclusively concerned with agricultural infrastructure, training, water, airports and telecommunications.”

It adds that LR Group “received a request from [US-backed Angolan] to help upgrade airspace infrastructure to ICAO international standards, ”and that aircraft sales were made“ with export licenses and were perfectly legal ”.

“In addition, aircraft and control radars were used only for deterrence,” the statement said.

The LR Group responded in a statement from CNN Business, which states: “The LR Group is involved in healthcare, telecommunications, food, agriculture, renewable energy and water to promote the independence and economic and social well-being of local people around the world.”

“At the time, when Stibbe was a partner in the company, he served as a partner responsible for the operation and financing of the company’s business in Angola,” the statement said. “After he separated from the company, he bought an activity in Angola in 2012 and continued to work there.”

LR Group is currently involved in a legal dispute related to the allegations against Stibb at a time when he was a partner in the company.

Representatives of Stibbe declined to comment on the lawsuit.

As for his decision to go into space, Steeb said, “As a child on dark nights I stared at the stars and waited patiently to see a shooting star, and I asked myself: what is beyond what the eyes see?” he said in a comment translated by i24NEWS.

Steb will soon find out that its launch is scheduled for this week.

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