The Axiom Space company organized the trip, in partnership with SpaceX and NASA, which paid for the use of its station. (Photo: Getty Images)
WASHINGTON-Three businessmen and a former NASA astronaut exploded Friday aboard a SpaceX rocket for the first all-private mission to the International Space Station, where they will remain for just a week.
The Liftoff occurred at 11:17 am Quebec time from the Kennedy Space Center under the blue skies of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Novices have already visited the space station (ISS), especially in 2000. Last year, Russia sent a film crew there, then a Japanese billionaire. But they flew aboard Soyuz rockets, accompanied by cosmonauts.
This time, the Axiom Space company organized the trip, in partnership with SpaceX and NASA, which paid for the use of its station.
“We’re expanding the boundaries of the space trade realm,” said Bill Nelson, head of America’s space agency, shortly before flying.
The commander of the mission, named Ax-1, was American-Spanish Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former astronaut of the American space agency, who had already visited the ISS.
The other three crew members paid several tens of millions of US dollars each for the experiment. The role of pilot is occupied by American Larry Connor, the head of a real estate company.
Also on board: Canadian Mark Pathy, boss of an investment company, and ex-pilot Eytan Stibbe, co-founder of an investment fund.
The latter is 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’s a good friend,” Mr Stibbe said at a news conference last week. “I’m going to continue an experiment he started 19 years ago, that focused on observing storms,” he said.
The four men had a busy program, with about 25 experiments, on aging, heart health, or even stem cells.
“The experiments I took there, which came from Canadian universities and research institutions, would probably not have had the opportunity to be tested in space” without this mission, Mark Pathy argues.
For this reason among others, members of Ax-1 refused to be called tourists in space.
“I think it’s important to differentiate space tourists from private astronauts,” Larry Connor said. The former “spend 10 to 15 hours training, five to 10 minutes in space. (…) We spend between 750 and over 1,000 hours training.
He and Michael Lopez-Alegria were trained on the SpaceX capsule system, Dragon.
And they have all learned to react in case there is an emergency at the station. But also to perform tasks in daily life, such as washing without weight.
However, their training is less advanced than that of professional astronauts, who must be able to perform spacewalks or even repair equipment.
“Ax-1 members will use the restrooms, but if they break, our crew will fix them,” NASA official Dana Weigel said Thursday.
Private stations in the future
The Dragon capsule is scheduled to dock at the ISS on Saturday around 7:30 am
Upon arrival, the crew will receive a guided tour of the station and then head to work.
This is the sixth time SpaceX has flown humans (the fifth on the ISS). The first flight took place less than two years ago.
Axiom Space has reached an agreement for a total of four missions in SpaceX, and NASA has formally approved the one-second principle, Ax-2.
For Axiom Space, this is a first step towards an ambitious goal: the construction of its own space station.
“It’s important for us to repeat” such missions “on a smaller scale,” said Michael Suffredini, the company’s boss.
The first module of this private station is due to launch in September 2024. The structure will first be attached to the ISS, before becoming autonomous when the latter retires, a priori around 2030.
This movement to privatize low orbit was encouraged by NASA, which wants to generate revenue through these private missions, and in the long run, there will be no need to manage the operation of a station, but instead hire a services of private structures. to focus on distant exploration.