In January 2022, Houston-based Axiom Space will launch a SpaceX rocket manned by a veteran NASA astronaut and three billionaires. The spacecraft will take them to the International Space Station, where they will spend eight days. The mission commander is Michael López-Alegría. Larry Connor from the U.S., Mark Pathy from Canada, and Eytan Stibbe from Israel are each paying $55 million to join the trip.
López-Alegría worked at NASA for two decades and has flown into space four times. His crew is made up of one former Israeli Air Force pilot and two wealthy space enthusiasts.
Larry Connor is the managing partner of an Ohio-based real estate investment firm, the Connor Group. Mark Pathy is CEO of Mavrik Corp., a Montreal-based investment firm. Eytan Stibbe is a successful businessman who served as a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force.
The mission announcement came only a week before SpaceX said it would send its Crew Dragon spacecraft to space with a crew of four civilians: the CEO of Pennsylvania-based Shift4 Payments, a trained jet pilot, a health care worker who is a cancer survivor, a sweepstakes prize winner, and the winner of a competition open to entrepreneurs who use Shift4Shop.
SpaceX said its Inspiration4 mission would launch during the fourth quarter of 2021, shortly before Axiom's proposed launch date, perhaps in an attempt to claim “the first all-civilian mission to space” for itself.
Axiom said its mission’s billionaire crew would undergo all the training required for International Space Station crew members. “Axiom is working with each Axionaut,” the company said, “to design on-orbit activities that will fit their mission goals and allow them to shine a global spotlight on the causes that matter most in the world.”
Each ‘Axionaut’ will take advantage of the trip to carry out different research and educational projects. Connor will collaborate with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic and will provide instruction to Dayton Early College Academy students. Pathy is exploring suitable health-related projects with Montreal’s Children’s Hospital and is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency. Stibbe will conduct various experiments in collaboration with Israeli scientists and develop related educational programs with the Israel Space Agency.
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”
SpaceX’s reusable rockets and a shift to private companies becoming the space race leaders have completely changed the landscape of space exploration. SpaceX runs regular cargo missions to the International Space Station, Boeing will soon begin carrying astronauts in its Starliner spacecraft and has an uncrewed test flight planned for March.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are focusing on suborbital space tourism. Blue Origin’s New Shepard has successfully completed a suborbital test flight with a crew of one, a dummy called “Mannequin Skywalker.” Virgin Galactic, whose stock plummeted after a failed test in December, continues to run test flights on its own spacecraft.
It won’t be long till millionaires can hop on one of these rockets to contemplate the Earth from outer space whenever the mood strikes. Axiom says it will soon be arranging two trips per year for private astronauts.
Commenting on the Inspiration4 mission, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone. It is only through missions like this that we're able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all."
Jared Isaacman, the future commander of Inspiration4, said he believes in the “grand ambitions for humankind being a multiplanet species.” “I think that we all want to live in a Star Wars, Star Trek world where people are jumping in their spacecraft,” the tech entrepreneur concluded.