NASA and Axiom Space, a private space infrastructure firm, have signed an agreement to launch the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS). According to a NASA press release, the flight, dubbed Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in January of next year. Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, and mission commander Michael López-Alegra are among the Ax-1 private astronauts.
“Backups” are Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner. Over the summer, NASA, its foreign partners, and SpaceX will put all four through medical certification testing, evaluations, and training. The Houston-based corporation has hired Elon Musk’s spaceflight company to transport the Ax-1 astronauts to the orbital laboratory, where they will fly onboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The Axiom Space astronauts will spend eight days on the International Space Station, and NASA and Axiom will collaborate to prepare cooperative events for the private astronauts to participate in with the space station crew and flight controllers. Axiom will also reportedly purchase “services” and equipment from NASA for the mission, including the opportunity to return scientific samples to Earth, as well as cargo, storage, and crew supplies.
The collaboration, which includes NASA’s February decision to grant Axiom Space a contract to provide at least one habitable commercial module for the ISS, is part of the agency’s broader effort to “create a stable and sustainable economy in low-Earth orbit,” according to NASA. Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini, said in a statement, “The first private crew to visit the International Space Station is a watershed moment in humanity’s expansion off the planet and we are glad to partner with NASA in making it happen.”