by Marcia Dunn
Cape Canaveral, Fla. ( Associated Press) — SpaceX launched three wealthy businessmen and their astronauts escort to the International Space Station on Friday, more than a week later, as NASA joins Russia in hosting guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination. Went.
This is the first private charter flight to SpaceX’s orbiting laboratory two years after carrying astronauts for NASA.
Arriving at the space station on Saturday will be an American, Canadian and Israeli who run investment, real estate and other companies. They’re paying $55 million for the rocket ride and accommodation, which includes all meals.
Russia has been hosting tourists on the space station – and before that the Mir station – for decades. Just one last time, a Russian film crew took off, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.
After years of protests from space station visitors, NASA is finally getting in on the act.
“It was one hell of a ride and we look forward to the next 10 days,” Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut and mentor, said upon arrival in orbit.
Visitors’ tickets include access to all but the Russian part of the space station – they’ll need permission from the three astronauts on board. Three Americans and one German also live there.
López-Alegria plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while aboard the space station.
“I honestly think it won’t be weird. I mean maybe a little bit,” he said. He hopes “the spirit of collaboration will shine through.”
The private Axiom Space company arranged travel with NASA for three of its paying customers: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pethe, founder and CEO of Maverick Corp. of Montreal; and Ayton Stibbe of Israel, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.
Before the launch, his excitement was evident: Stibbe danced a little as he arrived on the rocket at Kennedy Space Center.
SpaceX and NASA have been upfront with them about the risks of spaceflight, said López-Alegria, who spent seven months aboard the space station 15 years ago.
“I don’t seem to have any fuzz on what the dangers are or what a bad day might look like,” Lopez-Alegria told the Associated Press before the flight.
Every visitor has a full slate of experiments to do during their stay, one reason they don’t like to be called space tourists.
“They’re not there to stick their noses at the window,” said Axiom’s co-founder and president, Michael Suffredini, a former NASA space station program manager.
Three businessmen are the newest to have taken advantage of opening up the space for those with deep pockets. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on a 10-minute ride to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic expects to begin flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.
Friday’s flight is Elon Musk’s second private charter for 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. There will be more customer journeys with Axiom adding its own rooms to the orbiting complex starting in 2024. After about five years, the company plans to separate its compartments to build a self-sustaining station – one of several commercial outposts intended to replace space once it is retired and NASA shifts to the Moon. goes.
On an adjoining pad during Friday’s launch: NASA’s new moon rocket, which awaits completion of dress rehearsals for a summer test flight.
As a gift to its seven station hosts, four visitors are taking in paella and other Spanish dishes prepared by celebrity chef Jose Andrés. The rest of their time on the station will be spent doing NASA’s freeze-dried chow.
The automated SpaceX capsule is scheduled to return on April 19 with four.
Connor is honoring Ohio’s air and space heritage, taking a fabric swatch from the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk flyer and gold foil from the Apollo 11 command module from the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta.
Only the second Israeli in space, Stibbe would continue a thunderstorm experiment launched by the first – Ilan Ramon, who died aboard the shuttle Columbia in 2003. They were in the same fighter pilot squadron.
Stibbe is carrying copies of the recovered pages of Ramon’s space diary, as well as a song composed by Ramon’s musician son and a painting of pages falling from the sky by his daughter.
“Being a part of this unique team is a testament to me that there is no dream beyond reach,” he said.
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