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

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

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

Arrived at the space station on Saturday are an American, a Canadian and an Israeli who run investment, real estate and other businesses. They pay $ 55 million apiece for the rocket ride and overnight stay, all meals included.

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

NASA is finally getting started, after years of opposition to space station guests.

“It was a hell of a trip and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days,” said former NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria as he reached orbit.

Visitors’ tickets include access to all but the Russian part of the space station – they must have permission from the three cosmonauts on board. There also live three Americans and one German.

Lopez-Alegria plans to avoid talking about politics and the war in Ukraine while on the space station.

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

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Before the flight, their enthusiasm was evident. Stibbe danced a little as he arrived at the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX and NASA have been in advance with them about the risks of spaceflight, 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.

NASA’s Kathy Lueders, chief of space operations, said there’s a lot to learn from this first completely private station visit. “But man, this launch was a good start,” she told reporters.

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

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

The three businessmen are the latest to take advantage of the opening of space for those with deep pockets. Jeff Bezos’ 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 for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day tour of orbit last year. SpaceX’s fifth flight of NASA astronauts to the station coming in just a few weeks.

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

By an adjacent cushion during Friday’s launch: NASA’s new lunar rocketawaiting the completion of a dress rehearsal for a summer test flight.

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

The automated SpaceX capsule and its four passengers are due back on April 19 with a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

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

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

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

“Being a 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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