SpaceX’s crew Dragon Endeavor docked with the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.
A pair of investors are joining the first fully private flight to the International Space Station – not as financial backers, but as flying passengers.
Houston-based start-up Axiom Space revealed on Tuesday that real estate investor Larry Connor and Canadian investor Mark Pathey will be flying on their upcoming AX-1 mission. The pair are joined by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who will be flight commander and former Israeli fighter pilot Eaton Stibbe. Connor will be the pilot of the mission, making him the first private pilot on an orbital spacecraft.
Axiom signed an agreement with SpaceX for the mission last year. Elon Musk’s company is scheduled to launch all private crew prior to January 2022, using a crew drug capsule to transport them to the space station. The mission comes at a constant price – $ 55 million per person – but will net them for an eight-day stay at the space station.
“There were never unprofessional astronauts of the entire crew,” Lopez-Alegria told CNBC. “It’s really groundbreaking, and I think it’s very important that the mission be successful and safe because we’re really paving the way for a lot of things to happen after us.”
López-Alegria flew into space four times as a professional astronaut for NASA, but now works for Aiyom. He said he would lead them through about 15 weeks of training starting in the fall, commanding the spacecraft and ensuring that the other three crew members had “safe and productive time”.
The AX-1 was originally scheduled for October 2021, but slipped in early 2022. Axiom “wants to fly a couple of these missions per year,” Lopez-Alegria said, so future missions are on deck. There was speculation that the AX-1 would feature actor Tom Cruise, as NASA announced last year that it was working with Cruise to film on the ISS.
Connor has led The Connor Group since 2003 to create more than $ 3 billion in assets to an Ohio-based real estate investment firm. Pathey, who is set to become the 11th Canadian astronaut, is the CEO and president of the family office fund MAVRIK Corp., as well as the chairman of the board at the publicly traded Montreal-based music company Stingray Group.
Stibbe would be the second Israeli astronaut – the first was Ilan Ramon, a payload specialist on board the space shuttle Columbia, who was killed in February 2003 during re-entry into Columbia. Staub was a close friend of Ramon.
AX-1 ‘100% is not a holiday’
While space tourism is an emerging sub-sector of the space industry, Axiom’s private travelers do not place themselves in that category.
“We don’t believe at all that we are space tourists,” Connor told CNBC.
Lopez-Alegria similarly emphasized that the 10-day mission is “not a 100% holiday for these people.”
“They are really focused on creating a mission to benefit society, so they are working on each flight program,” Lopez-Alegria said. “They are working closely with various institutes, hospitals and other research institutes, as well as doing outreach while they are there.”
Each of the three have research missions that they will conduct on behalf of other organizations. Connor is collaborating with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. Meanwhile, Pathy is working with the Canadian Space Agency and Montreal Children’s Hospital. Finally, Staub is working on behalf of the Ramon Foundation and the Israeli Space Agency.
“I’ve volunteered myself to be a test subject,” Connor said. “We’re not going to be an audience there; we’re going to do research there and hopefully add some value to people.”
Conor and Pathy teamed up with SpaceX’s first astronaut launch, the Demo-2 mission, in May, the first rocket launch either seen individually.
Private ride for space
Crew Dragon Resilience Spacecraft in Hangar Ahead of Crew-1 Mission
SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon through massive NASA funding, in which the spacecraft was built to fly astronauts in low-Earth orbit from the ISS. SpaceX has so far launched two astronaut crew for NASA, including the first operational mission called Crew-1 in November.
Although NASA contributed to its development, Musk’s company owns and operates the spacecraft and rockets – with Axiom managing the mission and preparing astronauts to launch.
The AX-1 crew has yet to begin its formal training, but Connor said they stayed in SpaceX’s headquarters in Los Angeles for spaceship fittings and to see the spacecraft.
“The Crew Dragon capsule is excellent in terms of quality and professionalism,” Conor said. “And you can tell that, [as a group SpaceX is] Exceptionally talented and committed to the mission. “
Connor stressed that “NASA and SpaceX have nothing short of a notable safety record,” which he said he reviewed with his family, considering the risk of flying into space.
“We reached a point where we are not only confident, but comfortable that we can do both a valuable mission and a safe one,” Connor said.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members boarded the company’s crew dragon spacecraft during training. From left to right: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Oliver and Mike Hopkins, and JXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The AX-1 is expected to use SpaceX’s crew drug spacecraft “Resilience” after returning from its current Crew-1 mission. While the company regularly lands and recycles its Falcon 9 rocket booster and its cargo dragon capsule, the XU-1 will likely be the first time the crew will be reintroduced to a drug spacecraft.
“I’m very comfortable with him,” Lopez-Alegria said. “Reusability is something that has always been built in human spacecraft.”
A costly effort
The unopened Dragon Spacecraft unopened at the International Space Station revealed the SpaceX crew bringing their docking mechanisms closer to the station.
At $ 55 million per seat, it is astonishing that the first private space crew consists of high net worth individuals such as Connor and Kathy. The former said that it is “a reasonable question and concern” that some may criticize private spaceflight only for ultra rich people.
“We have a lot of domestic problems and challenges, as well as international ones, but does that mean we should forget about the future?” Connor asked. “And, if you really think about the future, my view is that space is the next great frontier, so shouldn’t we try to explore and in some cases try pioneering?”
Lopez-Allegria characterized the mission as a “first crack towards the democratization of space”, following closely on the heels of NASA’s decision to allow private missions to the ISS in 2019. NASA will pay a fee of $ 35,000 per day to each person on board, as compensation for services such as food and data usage will be required.
“It’s not a very democratic demographic because the cost of flights right now, but we fully anticipate that the cost will start coming down,” Lopez-Alegria said. “At some point we’ll be able to offer these man-on-the-street. It’s going to be a while, but that’s the goal, and you have to start somewhere.”
For Connor’s part, he asked that critics of private spaceflight “think long term” for 25 or more years from now.
“Would it be unusual for people to go into space? I think and I hope the answer will be no. So somebody has to start it, somebody has to explore and set the standards and so hopefully People will see that way, “Connor said.
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