On April 9, 2022, four civilians made history as the first entirely private “astronaut” team to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría and three new pilots, Mark Pathy, Larry Connor and Eytan Stibbe – who each paid $55 million for the trip – will spend eight days on the in orbit science lab. They are program to return to Earth aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule April 19, 2022.
The groundbreaking mission, dubbed Ax-1, was organized by Houston, Texas-based Axiom Space, in partnership with SpaceX and NASA. While the journey is in progress vaunted like a Milestone in the commercialization of spaceflight, the company maintains that the four men should not be called “space tourists”.
Derek Hassmann, Chief Operating Officer of Axiom Space, explains: “The distinction is our guys don’t go up there and float around for eight days taking pictures and looking out the cupola. I mean we have a very intensive and research-oriented timeline plan for them.”
The company says each crew member had to undergo hundreds of hours of astronaut training with NASA and SpaceX before the flight. Additionally, private astronauts will conduct 25 different experiments, encompassing more than 100 hours of research at the ISS. They include projects for the Mayo Clinic and the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
The Ax-1 crew will also help researchers determine the impact of microgravity on brain health. The data, recorded by a special headset developed by Israeli startup Brain.space, will be made available to all scientists.
“All organ is measured in space — body Masstemperature, heart rate – everything is measured except this organ,” Yair Levy, co-founder and CEO of Brain.space, told Cnet.com. “We’ll see if we can identify if the brain adapts to a new homeostasis in space.”
Axiom Space commercial space operations will continue with a second mission to the ISS in 2023. The Ax-2 mission will be led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. ISS trips are just the beginning of the company’s adventure primary goal – to build the world’s first private space station to replace the ISS, which should be retired sometime after 2030.
Resources: Axiom Space, NASA.gov, theguardian.com, nbcnews.com