Crew Dragon, SpaceX's human-carrying capsule, is about to send the first private citizens into space.
On Tuesday, Axiom Space revealed the four crew members it has chosen for its AX-1 mission. This is expected to be the first mission to ever fly a crew entirely of private citizens to the International Space Station. The AX-1 mission will take place no earlier than January 2022. The plan is to send the passengers to the space station for an eight-day sojourn.
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It's a big step forward for the Crew Dragon, designed by SpaceX as a means of ferrying passengers between Earth and the International Space Station. Although primarily meant for NASA astronauts to use, SpaceX plans to use it for private citizens to travel to space, too.
Crew Dragon is the product of the NASA Commercial Crew program, which tasked SpaceX and Boeing with developing a human-carrying capsule. After the shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA rented seats on Soyuz rockets launching from Kazakhstan. While Crew Dragon has taken six people into space over two missions, in May and November 2020, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner has yet to support a crewed mission.
So, who is flying on AX-1?
Michael López-Alegría — The mission commander. Born in Madrid, Spain, López-Alegría emigrated to the United States as a child and is based in Washington, D.C. He's a former NASA astronaut and now vice president of Axiom Space. He visited the station four times during his 20-year career with the agency, but this will be the first time he's been to the space station since 2007. He will be the first person ever to command a civil and commercial human spaceflight.
López-Alegría has an impressive career. During his four trips to the station (space shuttle missions STS-73, STS-92, STS-113, and Soyuz mission TMA-9), he earned the NASA record for the most spacewalks (10).
He also holds the record for the longest cumulative extravehicular activity time, of 67 hours and 40 minutes.
Larry Connor — The pilot. A real estate and technology entrepreneur from Dayton, Ohio, Connor is CEO of the Connor Group real-estate investment firm. He's something of a thrill-seeker, with an impressive history of racing, rafting, flying, and mountain climbing — he successfully climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2007.
While the mission will no doubt satisfy his taste for adventure, he plans to use his time at the space station to assist medical experts at the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic in research.
Mark Pathy — Canada's 11th astronaut. An investor and philanthropist, Pathy is CEO of Montreal-based investment firm Mavrik. He's also chairman of media and technology firm Stingray Group. Pathy is a philanthropist and a member of the board for the Pathy Family Foundation.
Etyan Stibbe — Israel's second astronaut, after Ilan Ramon — who died in his first spaceflight when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated during re-entry in 2003. Stibbe is the founding partner of the Vital Capital impact investment fund. He served in the Israel Air Force alongside Ramon, and the pair served in Squadron 117 in the 1991 Gulf War.
Stibbe is a founder of the Ramon Foundation, set up after Ilan's son Asaf was killed in a 2009 training accident. The foundation is the first non-profit to send an astronaut to the space station. Stibbe will conduct experiments in space on behalf of the foundation and educational activities aimed at inspiring a new generation.
“This collection of pioneers — the first space crew of its kind — represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said in a statement.
“I know from firsthand experience that what humans encounter in space is profound and propels them to make more meaningful contributions on returning to Earth."
What's next — SpaceX has a packed schedule of missions planned. The "Crew-2" mission will be the second non-test crewed flight for Crew Dragon. Comments from NASA suggest the flight could take place in early 2021.
It will feature the following astronauts:
- NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, born in Killeen, Texas.
- NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
- European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, born in Rouen, France.
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, born in Tokyo, Japain.
The "Crew-3" mission, expected in late 2021, will send up the following astronauts:
- ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, born in Sankt Wendel, Germany.
- NASA astronaut Raja Chari, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, born in Statesville, North Carolina.
- An unidentified fourth crew member.
Depending on timing, AX-1 may not grab the accolade as the first Crew Dragon mission to feature private citizens. Washington, D.C.-based Space Adventures announced plans in February 2020 to send up to four citizens into space. The window for launch stretches from late 2021 to mid-2022.
Previous reports also claimed future Crew Dragon passengers may include movie star Tom Cruise, who is expected to shoot the first feature-length film in space, and director Doug Liman.
Sending NASA astronauts to the space station is only the beginning.
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