NASA reveals the date of its first space tourism mission to the ISS

NASA aims to launch its first space tourism mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on February 28, 2022.

The mission is being organized by Texas-based Axiom Space and will use SpaceX’s proven Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The Ax-1 space tourism mission – or “private astronaut” mission, as NASA calls it – will last a week and will be led by Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor and the former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe, together with mission commander and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría.

The three amateur astronauts would each pay around $55 million for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of staying aboard the space station 250 miles above Earth. While in space, the trio will work on their own research and philanthropic projects, with health-related activities likely to be the main focus of their work.

Announcing the planned launch date via Twitter, Kathy Lueders, Chief of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, said, “These are milestones! Thank you to our international partners as we continue to work on this mission with @Axiom_Space. The launch is now scheduled for February 28 depending on station traffic planning.

Lueders added, “Exciting to see us maxing out @Space_Station and expanding access to Low Earth Orbit!”

These are important steps! Thank you to our international partners as we continue to work on this mission with @Axiom_Space. The launch is now scheduled for February 28 depending on station traffic planning. It’s exciting to see us maximizing @Space station and expanding access to low Earth orbit!

— Kathy Lueders (@KathyLuders) December 20, 2021

NASA’s announcement comes a week after the agency revealed it had selected Axiom for its second private astronaut mission – also destined for the ISS – which is expected to take place between fall 2022 and the end of of spring 2023.

NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are stepping up efforts to commercialize the ISS as part of efforts to raise funds and increase access to space. Critics, however, see rocket flights as a waste of money and a cause of pollution as the super-rich seek increasingly extreme ways to spend their money.

Earlier this month, Roscosmos used a Soyuz spacecraft to ferry two Japanese space tourists to the ISS, with the pair returning to Earth this week after 12 days aboard the orbiting facility, while in November, he organized a short stay for two Russian filmmakers.

These are not the first private missions to the space station. In 2001, shortly after the ISS was commissioned, American Dennis Tito became the world’s first space tourist after handing over $20 million for a ride to the facility aboard a spacecraft Soyuz.

Until this year, the last tourist missions to the ISS had taken place in 2009, always with Roscosmos equipment. One of the travellers, Hungarian-American software architect Charles Simonyi, made not one but two flights to the ISS, in 2007 and 2009, becoming the only person to pay for his own trip to space more than ‘Once.

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