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Axiom Space Announces First Private Crew Paying $55 Million for ISS Trip

The world's first private space crew will travel in SpaceX's Crew Dragon and set a pricey precedent.

Axiom Space just released the names of the world's first private astronaut crew, and each paid $55 million for a ticket to the International Space Station (ISS), according to the company's official website.

A Canadian investor, an American real-estate investor, and a former Israeli Air Force pilot constitute the crew that collectively paid $165 million. And while this is a turning point for the budding space industry — with several companies racing to transform space travel into an affordable market for private citizens — it also sets a pricey precedent for future hopeful astronauts who lack deep pockets. 

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Axiom Space's first private crew to ISS paid $55 million each

The private crew will launch on the Ax-1 mission — courtesy of the Houston, Texas-based tourism company Axiom Space, and lifted via SpaceX's Crew Dragon — which rocketed its initial two crews to the ISS in 2020.

"As the first fully private mission to go to the ISS, we feel an enormous responsibility to do it well," said Michael López-Alegria — the mission's commander and veteran astronaut — to The Verge. "We realize that this is the trend-setter, the bar-setter for the future, and so our goal is to really exceed all expectations."

American investor to become second-oldest astronaut after John Glenn

The crew includes Mark Pathy — a Canadian philanthropist and investor; Larry Connor, a non-profit activist investor and entrepreneur; and Eytan Stibbe — who was a fighter pilot for the Israeli Air Force and is also an impact investor. Axiom named all three Tuesday morning as the firm's inaugural crew for the first-ever all-private mission.

Connor is 71 and president of the Connor Group — a luxury real-estate investment company with headquarters in Ohio. If Axiom's launch with SpaceX goes forward, Connor will become the second-oldest person to fly to space — second to John Glenn, who piloted the U.S. space shuttle Discovery at age 77.

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Private crew will roll out sleeping bags, sleep near international astronauts

The first-ever private crew's trip to the ISS will follow an orbital trajectory roughly 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth — on a two-day journey. The crew will spend roughly eight days inside the U.S. segment of the ISS, where they'll participate "in research and philanthropic projects," said a statement from Axiom.

Poised in low-Earth orbit, the private crew will rub shoulders with astronauts from the U.S., and Russia, and possibly Germany, while everyone unrolls sleeping bags to sleep throughout the station.

"There aren't any astronaut crew quarters for us, which is fine," said López-Alegria to The Verge. "Sleeping in Zero-G is pretty much the same wherever you are once you close your eyes."

Wealthy space tourist stays on ISS cost $35,000 per night

NASA made a policy adjustment in 2019 to enable private astronaut flights to the ISS to encourage commercial interests in space. In the past, the agency was opposed to private journeys to the ISS aboard U.S. spacecraft — although seven private space tourists eventually flew to the ISS during the early 2000s, aboard Russia's Soyuz space vehicles.

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A day in the life of a wealthy space tourist is expensive — to most of the world. According to NASA's 2019 announcement, life support systems and toilet services cost $11,250 per astronaut per day, with another $22,500 per day for crew supplies like air, food, medical supplies, and more. With a relatively modest but real $42 per kilowatt-hour charged for power, the total nightly rate for a stay in low-Earth orbit costs roughly $35,000 per person.

Split into four and accounting for the cost of lifting the people and supplies into orbit — including the mission commander López-Alegria — the trip totals $1.1 million for an eight-night sleepover.

Axiom's Ax-1 mission awaits approval from Multilateral Crew Operations Panel

These nightly bills are included in the $55 million price the private astronauts are already paying, said Axiom — which describes itself as a "turnkey, full-service mission provider that interfaces with all other parties (NASA, for example) for" private space tourists, an Axiom spokesperson told The Verge.

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"Any and all necessary costs are part of Axiom's ticket price," they added.

However, before the Ax-1 mission can get off the ground, it needs approval from the Multilateral Crew Operations Panel — a managing body of the space station consisting of partner countries, including Japan, Canada, Russia, the U.S., and more. But this approval process began today, according to López-Alegria. "I don't think that there's any doubt that the background and qualifications of the crew are more than adequate to be accepted by the MCOP, so I feel good about that," he said.

Ax-1 to become SpaceX's second space tourism venture

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule can seat seven people and received approval last year from NASA according to its Commercial Crew Program to lift humans to the ISS. Within the umbrella of this roughly $4.5 billion program, SpaceX completed development on its Crew Dragon before its rival Boeing — which is still roughly one year from certifying the Starliner capsule for crewed flight.

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Both companies have contracts with NASA to fly six missions with U.S. astronauts aboard into space.

The Ax-1 mission will be SpaceX's second space tourism investment. At roughly the same time Ax-1 was announced in early 2020, SpaceX declared it was also in talks with the space tourism company Space Adventures to lift four private space tourists into space in the year 2022.

New age for space tourists highlights new lows for those in need

In a time of unprecedented launches, the advent of space tourism is setting a pricey precedent for public access to space. Arguably, the $55-million price will eventually drop, but not by much. CEO SpaceX Elon Musk has said a move to Mars would cost $500,000, "maybe even below $100,000," according to CNBC — once the Starship launch architecture is perfected. But with with so many problems on Earth, some may find it hard to cheer.

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The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive recession and saw a peak unemployment rate of 14.8% in April 2020 — surpassing the Great Recession, according to the Congressional Research Service. Beyond basic health care, food, and housing needs, the advance of the climate crisis also threatens the well-being of people on Earth. While Axiom's announcement marks a bright new day for wealthy space tourists, it also serves to highlight the unmet needs of billions, above whom the first-ever private space crew will fly — at an altitude of roughly 250 miles (400 km).

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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