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Explained: Three men are paying $50mn each to travel to the ISS. All about the mission

Axiom Mission 1 (AX 1): Axiom chief executive Suffredini said the private astronauts will have to pass medical tests and also undergo 15 weeks of rigorous training before their trip to space.

By: Explained Desk | Vasco |
January 28, 2021 1:19:00 pm
The three men will participate in research and philanthropic projects alongside the astronauts from all over the world who are already stationed at the ISS. Image: NASA

A former Israeli fighter pilot, an American technology entrepreneur and a Canadian investor will be part of the crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission. The three men are paying a whopping $55 million each to fly aboard a SpaceX rocket for an eight-day visit to the International Space Station, organised by Houston-based spaceflight firm Axiom.

“These guys are all very involved and doing it for kind of for the betterment of their communities and countries, and so we couldn’t be happier with this makeup of the first crew because of their drive and their interest,” Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini told the Associated Press. The mission will be led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who now works for Axiom space.

What do we know about the mission?

The Axiom Mission 1 (AX 1) flight is being arranged under a commercial agreement with NASA. While private citizens have travelled to space before, the AX 1 mission will be the first to use a commercially built spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon 2, best known for flying its first two crews to the ISS late last year.

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Elon Musks’ SpaceX is scheduled to launch the all-private crew no earlier than in January next year. After lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the crew will take about a day or two to arrive at the ISS and will then proceed to spend eight days there, AP reported.

But Axiom insists that the mission is by no means a vacation. The three men will participate in research and philanthropic projects alongside the astronauts from all over the world who are already stationed at the ISS.

What training will the crew receive?

Axiom chief executive Suffredini told AP that the private astronauts will have to pass medical tests and also undergo 15 weeks of rigorous training before their trip to space.

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Who are the three men paying to fly to the space station?

Larry Connor

The American real estate investor and technology entrepreneur is the head of the Connor Group, an Ohio-based real estate firm worth over $3 billion in assets. The 70-year-old will be the second-oldest person to fly to space and will be serving as the capsule pilot under Lopez-Alegria.

According to Axiom, he will be collaborating with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic on research projects at the ISS. He also plans to provide instructional lessons to students at Dayton Early College Academy in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

Mark Pathy

Pathy, 50, is the CEO and Chairman of MAVRIK Corp, a privately-owned investment and financing company. The Canadian is also the chairperson of the board of Stingray Group, a Montreal-based music company. An active philanthropist, he serves on the board of the Pathy Family Foundation and is also a board member of both Dans la Rue and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. He will be the 11th Canadian astronaut in space.

Pathy is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency and the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who are helping identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission, Axiom said in a statement.

Eytan Stibbe

Stibbe, the founder of Vital Capital Fund and a former fighter pilot, will be the second Israeli to be launched into space. He is also a founder and board member of the Center for African Studies at Ben-Gurion University and is on the board of several NGOs working specifically to develop education, art and culture.

The first Israeli to go to space was Ilan Ramon, who died onboard the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated as it re-entered the atmoshphere in 2003. Ramon was a close personal friend of Stibbe’s.

Who is the mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria?

The former Spanish astronaut has participated in four space flights and logged over 257 days in space. He was a member of NASA’s astronaut corps for over two decades. He has performed 10 spacewalks, totalling 67 hours and 40 minutes of Extravehicular activity (EVA), according to NASA.

Lopez-Alegria joined Axiom in 2017 and now serves as the company’s Vice President of Business Development.

Is this the first time civilians have been launched into space?

No, private civilians have travelled to the space station before. Since 2001, Russia has been selling rides to the ISS to wealthy businessmen around the world. They travelled onboard the Russian Soyuz aircraft along with professional cosmonauts and NASA astronauts.

Until 2019, NASA did not permit ordinary citizens to be launched into space from American soil. It finally reversed its stance, stating that the missions would help spur growth in the commercial space industry, the Washington Post reported.

Several other space companies, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plan to take paying customers to space in the near future. But these up-and-down flights will last mere minutes, AP reported.

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