Last night a The Axiom Space mission carrying a private crew lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, heading to the International Space Station. The four-person crew, led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, flew aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and docked with the ISS around 9:12 a.m. Eastern Time. This morning. This is the second time that Axiom has transported paying customers to the ISS. Last year’s maiden flight was a milestone for space tourism. This time it’s a glimpse into the future of the space station itself.
The years of the ISS are numbered. NASA is committed to supporting the station until 2030, how keen the agency is to put in place the first elements of a commercial successor. In 2021, the agency contracts awarded to a trio of companies—Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and Nanoracks—to develop competing designs. NASA awarded a separate contract to Axiom in 2020 to develop a habitable module to attach to the ISS, with up to three modules to follow. The first is set to launch in late 2025, and once NASA and its partners decommission and deorbit the ISS, Axiom’s modules will detach and merge with each other, becoming a self-contained space station.
But in the meantime, private passengers and seasoned space agency astronauts will have to learn to live and work side by side. Over time, as the number of visitors and modules add up, interactions between Axiom passengers and traditional astronauts may change, especially once private customers essentially have their own hotel rooms. orbitals. “These missions are very important to us at NASA as we try to open up space to a wider cross-section of society. We believe the economy in low Earth orbit will continue to grow, and one day the NASA will only participate in this economy, buying services from private industry,” NASA associate administrator Ken Bowersox said during a joint press conference last week with Axiom and SpaceX officials.
Ax-2, as this spaceflight is called, carries three paying visitors for an eight-day stay, plus Commander Whitson, Axiom’s director of human spaceflight, who will build on her record as an American who has spent the longest time in space-665 days. (Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka holds the world record at 878 days.) Other members of the quartet include American racing driver and businessman John Shoffner, Royal Saudi Air Force pilot Ali AlQarni and biomedical researcher Rayyanah Barnawi . AlQarni and Barnawi are the first Saudis to visit the ISS, and Barnawi is also the first Saudi woman in space. “I am very honored and happy to represent all the dreams and hopes of the Saudi people and all women back home,” Barnawi said during a press conference with the rest of the crew on May 16.
The Saudi government pays for their tickets and Shoffner pays for his. Axiom declined to reveal the exact ticket price for this flight, although the coveted seats for Ax-1 in 2022 cost around $55 million each.
The presence of Barnawi and AlQarni on board Ax-2 will mark a major success for the Saudi Space Commission’s human spaceflight program, which the Saudi government established in December 2018. Saudi Arabia has recently increased its involvement in space activities, including joining the US-led program. Accords of Artemis and the launch of a handful of communications satellites.