Space travel: the first private mission takes off

Three businessmen and a former astronaut are due to take off on a rocket on Friday SpaceX on the first entirely private mission to the international space station (ISS), where they will stay for more than a week.

Liftoff is scheduled for 11:17 a.m. local time (3:17 p.m. GMT) from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Since 2000, several recruits have traveled to the ISS. Last year, Russia sent a film crew and a Japanese billionaire. But they all did it aboard Soyuz rockets and accompanied by cosmonauts.

This time it was Axiom Space which organized the trip, in collaboration with SpaceX and NASA, have paid for the use of their station.

The commander of the mission, dubbed Ax-1, is the Hispanic American Michael López-Alegría, a former astronaut who was already on the ISS.

The other members of the team paid tens of millions of dollars to be part of the mission. The role of the pilot is occupied by the American Larry Connor, owner of a real estate company.

Also on board are Canadian Mark Pathy, owner of an investment company, and former pilot Eytan Stibbe, co-founder of an investment fund.

Stibbe will be the second Israeli astronaut in history, after Ilan Ramon, who died in 2003 in the explosion of the American space shuttle Columbia on his return from the ISS.

“He was a good friend,” Stibbe said at a news conference last week. “I will continue the experiment started 19 years ago, centered on the observation of storms.”

scientific experiences

The four men have a very busy schedule, with around 25 experiments to perform on aging, heart health or stem cells.

“The experiments I’m doing there, which come from Canadian universities and research institutes, probably couldn’t have been done in space ‘without that mission,'” Pathy said.

It is for this reason, among others, that the members of AX-1 reject the description of space tourists.

“I think it’s important to differentiate special tourists from private astronauts,” Connor said. The first “spend 10 to 15 hours training (and) five to ten minutes in space (…) We spend between 750 and more than 1,000 hours training.”

He and Lopez-Alegria were trained in the Dragon capsule system of SpaceX.

Everyone learned how to react in an emergency at the station. But also to carry out the tasks of daily life in weightlessness.

However, their training is less extensive than that of professional astronauts, who must be able to go into space or repair equipment.

Ax-1 members “will use the toilet, but if they break it, our team will fix it,” NASA official Dana Weigel said Thursday.

Future private station

The Dragon capsule is due to dock with the ISS on Saturday around 07:30 (11:30 GMT).

On arrival, the team will visit the station before getting to work.

It’s only the sixth time SpaceX flies with humans (the fifth to the ISS). The first flight took place less than two years ago.

Axiom Space has entered into an agreement to fly four missions with SpaceXand NASA has formally approved the principle of a second, Ax-2.

For Axiom Space, this will be the start of a step towards an ambitious goal: the construction of its own space station.

“It’s important for us to be able to repeat ‘these missions’ on a smaller scale,” said company boss Michael Suffredini.

The launch of the first module of the private station is scheduled for September 2024. The structure will first be attached to the ISS before becoming autonomous when the orbital laboratory is deactivated, which is expected around 2030.

This movement to privatize low orbit is driven by NASA, which wants to generate revenue from these private missions and, ultimately, not have to manage the operation of a station but rather hire the services of private structures to focus on distant exploration.

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