After sending the first all-civilian crew to space, SpaceX launched the first space tourism mission to the International Space Station (ISS), on 9 April, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The trip was organized by SpaceX and Axiom Space, a private space company, which is hoping to launch its own space station in the near future.
Called, Axiom-1, or AX-1, the mission includes Michael Lopez-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut turned Axiom employee who is commanding the mission, Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and Ohio-based real estate magnate Larry Connor.
“I’m thrilled and honored to be up here,” said Connor, who became only the second private astronaut to serve as the pilot of an orbital spaceflight. “Thanks to SpaceX for the phenomenal ride. I mean, no pun intended, but [it was] out of this world.”
All four went aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the ISS for a 10-day research mission, which was organised by Axiom Space, Houston-based space services company that organised their flight as the first step in its plan to develop a commercial space station.
Upon arrival at the ISS, the private space travellers joined seven professional astronauts already on board the space station — including three NASA astronauts, a German astronaut, and three Russian cosmonauts.
NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, commander of the Expedition 67 crew, welcomed the Axiom-1 members onto the station and recognised the milestone they were reaching together.
All of us are incredibly thrilled and excited to welcome Axiom on board. On this historic day, we expect long term cooperation with NASA, with our international partners, with private companies and private astronauts.Tom Marshburn, speaking on behalf of his American, European and Russian crewmates
Real estate magnate Connor will conduct research on how spaceflight affects senescent cells, which are cells that have ceased the normal replication process and are “linked to multiple age-related diseases,” according to Axiom. The research onboard the ISS will be done in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, the Canadian Space Agency, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Ramon Foundation and the Israeli Space Agency.
We’re here to experience this, but we understand there’s a responsibility and the responsibility is for this first civilian crew to get it right. And that’s what we are fully committed to, with the support of everybody here at the ISS and and on the ground. So it is going to be a busy week of research for us and I’m sure it’s going to fly by.Larry Connor, Real estate magnate
4. Space tourism or scientific expedition?
This space trip in particular has raised questions as to whether the travellers are considered astronauts or only tourists. Semantics apart, it is clear that professional astronauts endure extensive training of all sorts. Still, the AX-1 crew doesn’t like to be referred as “tourists”.
“This mission is very different from what you may have heard of in some of the recent — especially suborbital — missions. We are not space tourists,” Lopez-Alegría told reporters before the mission, referring to last year’s supersonic flights put on by Jeff Bezos‘ company Blue Origin. “I think there’s an important role for space tourism, but it is not what Axiom is about.”
However, Axiom didn’t close the door to space tourism as an output of their activities: “Commercial human spaceflight. Space Tourism. Whatever you call it — it’s happening. And soon,” the company stated.