SpaceX launched three businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station on Friday for more than a week’s stay, as NASA joins Russia in hosting guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.
It’s SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for NASA.
Arriving at the space station Saturday will be an American, Canadian and Israeli who run investment, real estate and other companies. They’re paying $55 million apiece for the rocket ride and accommodations, all meals included.
Russia has been hosting tourists at the space station — and before that the Mir station — for decades. Just last fall, a Russian movie crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.
NASA is finally getting into the act, after years of opposing space station visitors.
“It was a hell of a ride and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days,” said former NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria on reaching orbit.
The visitors' tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station — they’ll need permission from the three cosmonauts on board. Three Americans and a German also live up there.
Lopez-Alegria plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while he’s at the space station.
“I honestly think that it won’t be awkward. I mean maybe a tiny bit,” he said. He expects the “spirit of collaboration will shine through.”
The private Axiom Space company arranged the visit with NASA for its three paying customers: Larry Connor of 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 founding partner of Vital Capital.
SpaceX and NASA have been upfront with them about the risks of spaceflight, said Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months at the space station 15 years ago.
“There’s no fuzz, I think, on what the dangers are or what the bad days could look like,” Lopez-Alegria said.
Each visitor has a full slate of experiments to conduct during their stay, one reason they don’t like to be called space tourists.
“They’re not up there to paste their nose on the window,” said Axiom’s co-founder and president, Michael Suffredini, a former NASA space station program manager.
The three businessmen are the latest to take advantage of the opening of space to those with deep pockets. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on 10-minute rides to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic expects to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.