First tourists to dock at International Space Station on orbiting platform

Aerospace firm SpaceX, which launched a rocket with three businessmen and an accompanying astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS), arrived safely at the orbiting research platform on Saturday to begin a one-day science mission. week hailed as a milestone in the commercial space.

They arrived 21 hours after leaving NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday.

With this milestone, NASA has joined Russia in welcoming guests to the most expensive tourist destination in the world.

This is SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of flying astronauts for NASA.

The capsule was lifted into orbit by the rocket attached to the station around 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) Saturday as the two spacecraft hovered about 250 miles (420 km) above the central Atlantic Ocean. NASA broadcast the docking live.

The final approach was delayed by a technical failure which disrupted a video stream used to monitor the capsule’s encounter with the station. The problem forced him to stop and hold his position 20 meters from the station for about 45 minutes while mission control fixed the problem.

The rocket took off on Friday. The Travelers are an American, a Canadian, and an Israeli who run investment companies, real estate, and other industries. They each paid $55 million for the rocket flight and accommodation, all meals included.

As a gift to the seven guests of the ISS, the four visitors will arrive with paella and other dishes of Spanish cuisine prepared by chef José Andrés. The rest of their time on the orbital base, they must eat NASA freeze-dried food.

This photo provided by SpaceX shows the SpaceX crew seated in the Dragon spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 8, 2022.

Once docking was complete, the process was expected to take about two additional hours to pressurize and check for leaks before the hatches could be opened, allowing newly arrived astronauts to board the station.

Russia has welcomed tourists to the space station – and previously to the Mir station – for decades. Last fall, a team of Russian filmmakers visited the orbital laboratory, followed by a Japanese fashion mogul and his assistant.

NASA finally did the same, after years of opposing the presence of tourists on the orbital base.

The multinational team, which plans to spend eight days in orbit, was led by retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, 63, born in Spain, the company’s vice president of business development.

His second-in-command was Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur and aerobatic aviator from Ohio assigned as the mission’s pilot. Connor is over 70, but the company did not provide his specific age.

“It’s been an incredible journey and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days,” former NASA astronaut Lopez-Alegria said after entering orbit.

Visitor tickets include access to the entire space station, except for the Russian part, for which they will require authorization from the three cosmonauts on board. In the orbital laboratory, there are already three Americans and a German.

Lopez-Alegría said she plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while on the space station. “Honestly, I think it won’t be awkward. I mean, maybe a little,” he added. He hopes that “the spirit of collaboration will shine through”.

Private company Axiom Space arranged the visit with NASA on behalf of its three clients: Larry Connor, of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group company; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Mavrik Corp., Montreal; and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.

Before the flight, the enthusiasm of the tourists was evident. Stibbe took a few dance steps as he reached the Kennedy Space Center launch pad.

SpaceX and NASA have been candid with each other about the risks of spaceflight, said Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months on the ISS 15 years ago.

“There’s no doubt, I guess, about the dangers or what the bad days could be,” López-Alegria told The Associated Press before the flight.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

NASA chief of space operations Kathy Lueders said there was a lot to be learned from this first visit by tourists on an American flight. “But this takeoff was a good start,” he told reporters.

Each of the visitors will perform various experiences during their stay, which is why they do not like to be called space tourists.

“They’re not up there sticking their noses out the window,” said Michael Suffredini, co-founder and president of Axiom, who was previously head of space station programs for NASA.

The three entrepreneurs are the latest to take advantage of the opening of the space for wealthy visitors. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, is taking customers on 10-minute journeys to the far reaches of space, while Virgin Galactic hopes to start taking tourists on its spacecraft later this year.

Friday’s flight is the second private charter for SpaceX from Elon Musk, who took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day orbital trip last year. SpaceX’s fifth NASA astronaut flight to the station is just weeks away.

Axiom aims to execute its second private flight to the ISS next year. More customer voyages will follow, and Axiom will add its own rooms to the orbital complex beginning in 2024. After about five years, the company plans to separate its compartments to form a self-contained station, one of several trading posts slated to replace the international orbital base once it is decommissioned and NASA shifts its priorities to the Moon.

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