​Space tourism officially began in 2001 with the flight of Dennis Tito, who reportedly paid Space Adventures $20 million to orbit the International Space Station (ISS) for several days using a Soyuz capsule. Later, Space Adventures also launched other space tourists to the ISS, but after the retirement of the space shuttles, career astronauts had priority aboard the Union capsules. The rise of SpaceX, however, has caused changes in the landscape of space tourists.

SiPhoto: Stocktrek Images, Inc. / Alamy / Profimedia

Dennis Tito was not the first person to reach space without a career as an astronaut: the US space shuttle carried out several missions in which such flights were a form of cooperation between NASA and the United States against certain contractors or even states. Recently, in addition to a new wave of space tourists arriving either aboard the ISS or simply in orbit (as was the case with the Exploration-4 mission and will be the case with future SpaceX Polaris missions), a collaboration between NASA and Axiom Space has spawned a new type of space tourist: private astronaut.

Axiom Space is an interesting company: it doesn’t have its own rockets or capsules, so it leases them from SpaceX and maintains these connections between interested customers, NASA, and SpaceX. Perhaps also because the director of the company, Michael Suffredini, was the head of the ISS program at NASA for a long time, so he is a person who knows very well how to cooperate with NASA in this direction.

My point is that if you want to go into space (a two-week orbital trip, not just a few-second suborbital flight), all you need is relatively good health and money, lots of money: a ticket to Axiom Space costs approx. 50-60 million dollars.

Last year, on April 8, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Larry Connor, Eitan Stibbe and Mark Pati took off in the Dragon capsule “Endeavour”, and a few hours later finished docking with the International Space Station’s “Harmony” module for a 15-day stay, in which the Axiom-1 mission. From the very beginning, despite the fact that the mission was a commercial one, with the costs borne by 3 of the 4 crew members, they did not want to be called space tourists because, they claimed, they had prepared for the mission and even participated in some experiments carried out on board the ISS.

That’s true, but the inherent problems of adaptation and the novelty of the situation made the 4’s schedule not very compatible with the schedule of the astronauts already on the International Space Station, and the whole experience was less pleasant for both parties. As a result, NASA decided that future missions of this kind would be better prepared, and the private astronauts, as they are fondly called, would be accompanied by an experienced former astronaut.

Axiom Space planned to send an experienced astronaut only on the first missions in order to sell 4 instead of 3 tickets to space (I said the stay was paid for by 3 astronauts because Michael Lopez-Alegria, a veteran with 3 flights, was the representative of Axiom Space and did not participate in the costs of the mission).

It is not yet clear how this will affect Axiom Space’s earnings, but what is certain is that such missions will continue according to the formula required by NASA. The Axiom-2 mission will launch in May, and in addition to veteran Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who spent a total of 665 days in space, the Dragon capsule will include American John Shoffner, as well as two people from Saudi Arabia. Arabia: Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni.

It is worth noting that Rayana Barnawi will become the first woman from Saudi Arabia to reach orbit, just 5 years after Saudi women were allowed to drive in their country. The Axiom-2 mission will last approximately two

weeks before the return of four private astronauts to Earth.

NASA announced that it has also approved a third Axiom mission to the International Space Station, which will take place no earlier than November of this year. We still do not know the names of those who will be launched into space, but it is possible that we will see a Turkish citizen on board, the realization of the cooperation between the Turkish Space Agency and Axiom Space. Likewise, probably in 2024, an astronaut

The Hungarian private will fly as part of the Axiom Space mission (probably the Axiom-4 mission).

However, Axiom Space has big plans beyond brokering private astronaut flights: It proposes starting in 2025 to launch several sealed modules that will initially dock with the ISS, thus increasing the space station’s capacity. Thus, these modules will be able to host future private astronauts, which will interfere less with routine activities aboard the station. Also, after 2031, when the International Space Station is scheduled to be de-orbited, Axim Space will detach its own modules, and thus we will have a commercial space station in orbit that will be fully operated by Axiom Space.

But NASA hopes to have at least one more privately owned space station in Earth’s orbit by 2031, as it has launched a competition to encourage private partners other than Axiom to submit proposals.

Follow our Facebook page, HotNews Science, to be able to receive live information and curiosities from the world of science in real time!

Photo source: profimediaimages.ro