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NASA will help send a private mission to the ISS next year

Published May 12th, 2021 8:43PM EDT
private astronauts
Image: NASA

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For decades now, the International Space Station has been occupied by astronauts from the United States, Russia, and other nations. These scientists are hand-picked and go through rigorous training so they are well-equipped to handle long stays in Earth orbit. In recent years, NASA has shown an interest in opening up the ISS to private visitors, and it’s been working with companies like Axiom Space to see how that might be possible. Now, in an official announcement from the space agency and Axiom, the first private astronaut mission to the ISS has been planned.

In an announcement from NASA the space agency and Axiom Space reveal that the mission, designated Axiom Mission 1, will launch no earlier than January of 2022. The mission will see a crew of four private astronauts travel to the ISS where NASA will host them. They will spend a total of eight days in space before returning back to Earth.

The foursome of private astronauts will need to be confirmed by NASA before they are allowed to fly to the ISS, but once that red tape is out of the way they’ll have a lot to look forward to. NASA will provide supplies and resources for them while in space, and the space agency will plan “in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground,” NASA says.

“We are excited to see more people have access to spaceflight through this first private astronaut mission to the space station,” NASA’s Kathy Lueders said in a statement. “One of our original goals with the Commercial Crew Program, and again with our Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program, is that our providers have customers other than NASA to grow a commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”

The highlight of the mission is obviously the fact that four private space travelers will get to stay aboard the ISS, but the adventure will also help NASA in a scientific manner. Axiom Space is going to help NASA out by carrying scientific samples back to Earth when the crew departs. These samples, which need to be kept cold during storage and for the trip back to Earth, will help NASA scientists conduct research.

The travelers will ride on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and a Falcon 9 rocket. They’ll be trained by NASA and SpaceX, and will be prepared for life aboard the space station. The press release doesn’t explain exactly how much the astronauts are paying for their trip, or what the associated costs will be for NASA, SpaceX, and any other partners involved. That said, rockets aren’t cheap, and an eight-day “vacation” aboard the International Space Station isn’t likely to come with a discount.