SpaceX launches 3 space station visitors for $55 million each

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX sent three wealthy businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station on Friday for a stay of more than a week, as NASA joins Russia in hosting guests at the most expensive tourist destination. of the world.

It’s SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of flying astronauts there for NASA.

An American, Canadian and Israeli who run investments, real estate and other businesses will arrive at the space station on Saturday. They are paying $55 million each for the rocket ride and accommodation, with all meals included.

Russia has hosted tourists on the space station, and before that on the Mir station, for decades. Just last fall, a Russian film crew flew in, followed by a Japanese fashion mogul and his assistant.

NASA is finally springing into action, after years of opposing space station visitors.

“It was an amazing ride and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days,” said former NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria upon arrival in orbit.

Visitor tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station; they will need the permission of the three cosmonauts on board. Three Americans and a German also live there.

López-Alegría plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while on the space station.

“Honestly, I think it won’t be awkward. I mean, maybe a little bit,” she said. He hopes the “spirit of collaboration shines through.”

Private company Axiom Space arranged the visit with NASA for its three paying clients: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Mavrik Corp. of Montreal; and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.

Before launch, his excitement was obvious: Stibbe did a little dance when he arrived at the rocket at the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX and NASA have been candid with each other about the risks of spaceflight, said López-Alegría, who spent seven months on the space station 15 years ago.

“I think there is no confusion about what the dangers are or what the bad days could be,” López-Alegría told The Associated Press before the flight.

Each visitor has a whole list of experiments to perform during their stay, one of the reasons they don’t like to be called space tourists.

“They’re not there to stick their noses out the window,” said Axiom co-founder and president Michael Suffredini, a former NASA space station program manager.

The three entrepreneurs are the last to take advantage of the opening of space for those with a lot of money. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on 10-minute trips to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic hopes to start taking customers on its spacecraft later this year.

Friday’s flight is the second private charter for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day orbital journey last year.

Axiom is targeting its second private flight to the space station next year. More customer trips will follow, and Axiom will add its own rooms to the orbiting complex beginning in 2024. After about five years, the company plans to separate its compartments to form a self-contained station, one of several trading posts intended to replace the space. station once it is removed and NASA switches to the moon.

On an adjacent pad during Friday’s launch: NASA’s New Moon rocket, which is awaiting the completion of a dress rehearsal for a summer test flight.

As a gift to the hosts of the seven seasons, the four visitors are enjoying paella and other Spanish foods prepared by celebrity chef José Andrés. The rest of his time on the station, he will have to eat freeze-dried food from NASA.

The automated SpaceX capsule will return with all four on April 19.

Connor is honoring Ohio’s air and space legacy, taking a fabric sample from the Wright brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk flyer and a gold foil from the Apollo 11 command module at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta.

Only the second Israeli in space, Stibbe will continue a storm experiment started by the first: Ilan Ramon, who died aboard the Columbia shuttle in 2003. They were in the same squadron of fighter pilots.

Stibbe carries copies of recovered pages from Ramon’s space journal, as well as a song composed by Ramon’s musician son and a painting of pages falling from the sky by his daughter.

“Being part of this unique team is proof to me that no dream is out of reach,” he said.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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