This Friday, April 8, a mission will start that will have a profound impact on the history of human space exploration: for the for the first time, a crew made up of private citizens only will head to the International Space Station. No employees of NASA, ISA, Roscosmos or any other government space agency among the four astronauts, who are essentially customers of Axiom Space, a US company that aims to create the first space station of a private company.
The mission will last about ten days (eight of stay and two of travel). The four will travel on SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavor capsule, and the rocket will be a Falcon 9, also from the same company as Elon Musk. The “ticket” cost around 55 million dollars for three of the four astronauts – and they weren’t even enough. NASA apparently covers a fraction of the costs.
Although the mission is formally cataloged as “space tourism”, the four are far from being naïve. The mission captain, Michael López-Alegría, is a former NASA astronaut (in fact it will be the only one who will fly “for work”), while the three “tourists” have extensive experience in both private and military aeronautics. They could have been enlisted by space agencies, in short.
During their stay on board the ISS, the astronauts will carry out various experiments and tests, both on the health impacts of space travel and, for example, of growing food in zero gravity. For Axiom Space it is also a “test flight” in the path towards the construction of its own space station, which should take place in the coming years. And it is also a fundamental test for Western space agencies, which will be very curious to understand how much the private sector can give them a hand, now that they have lost an ally of the caliber of Russia.