SpaceX launches 3 visitors to the space station for $ 55M each

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – SpaceX launched three rich businessmen and their astronaut cards to the International Space Station on Friday for more than a week’s stay, as NASA joins Russia to receive guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.

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

Arriving at the space station on Saturday comes an American, Canadian and Israeli who drives investments, real estate and other companies. They pay $ 55 million each for the rocket ride and accommodation, all meals included.


Russia has been hosting tourists on the space station – and before that the Mir station – for decades. Just last fall, a Russian film crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion magnate and his assistant.

NASA is finally on its way into action, after years of opposition to space station visitors.

Their tickets include access to all but the Russian part of the space station – they need permission from the three cosmonauts on board. Three Americans and a German also live up there.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, the leader, plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while he is on the space station.

“I honestly think it will not be difficult. I mean maybe a little,” he said. He expects “the spirit of cooperation will shine through.”

The private company Axiom Space arranged the visit with NASA for its three paying customers: Larry Connor from Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Montreal’s Mavrik Corp .; and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founder of Vital Capital.

Before the launch, their enthusiasm was evident: Stibbe danced a little when he arrived at the rocket at the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX and NASA have been in advance with them about the risks of space travel, said Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months at the space station 15 years ago.

“There is no ambiguity, I think, about what the dangers are or what the bad days might look like,” Lopez-Alegria told the Associated Press before the flight.

Each visitor has a complete list of experiments to perform during their nine to 10 days there, one reason why they do not like to be called space tourists.

“They are not up there sticking their noses in the window,” said Axiom co-founder and president Michael Suffredini, a former NASA space station host.

The three businessmen are the latest to take advantage of the opening of space for those with deep pockets. Jeff Bezo’s rocket company Blue Origin takes customers on 10-minute trips to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic expects to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.

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

Next year, Axiom is aiming for its second private flight to the space station. More customer journeys will follow, and Axiom will add its own rooms to the orbiting complex beginning in 2024. After about five years, the company plans to remove its compartments to form a self-supporting station – one of several commercial outposts intended to replace the space station when it retires and NASA switches to the moon.

On an adjacent plate during Friday’s launch: NASA’s new lunar rocket, which is waiting to complete a rehearsal for a summer test flight.

As a gift to their seven station hosts, the four visitors bring up paella and other Spanish dishes prepared by celebrity chef José Andrés. The rest of the time at the station, NASA’s freeze-dried chow will have to do.

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

Connor honors Ohio’s aerospace heritage and picks up a fabric sample from the Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk flyer from 1903 and gold foil from the Apollo 11 command module from the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta.

Only the second Israeli to launch into space, Stibbe will continue a thunderstorm experiment started by the first – Ilan Ramon, who died aboard the shuttle Columbia in 2003. They were in the same fighter pilot squadron.

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

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

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

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