NASA and Axiom ink deal for 1st private astronaut mission to space station -
May 11, 2021 2 mins, 30 secs

NASA and Texas-based company Axiom Space have agreed on terms for the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, which will launch as soon as January 2022.

The agreement will allow Axiom to send a retired NASA astronaut and three passengers to the orbiting laboratory aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for a journey of about a week in the first crewed space station mission for exclusively private interests.

human spaceflight, I think that's the perfect word for what we're experiencing," Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA, said during a news conference held Monday.

The mission, dubbed Ax-1, marks a new milestone in NASA's continuing push to transition low Earth orbital activities to commercial entities: first by hiring companies to ferry supplies to the space station, then by hiring SpaceX and Boeing to build the crew vehicles that are just coming into operation, and now by opening the station itself to companies.

"We are excited to see more people have access to spaceflight through this first private astronaut mission to the space station," Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, said in a statement.

Retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, veteran of four spaceflights and vice president of Axiom Space, will lead the mission, seeing his first launch in more than a decade.

The quartet will be the first fully private crew to visit the International Space Station; previous private spaceflyers have flown as a single individual accompanied by government astronauts conducting a routine mission.

Axiom has chosen for each planned flight it arranges to be led by a retired astronaut to increase comfort with the arrangement, Suffredini said.

"The Ax-1 crew has its work cut out for it," López-Alegría said during the news conference.

The crew will be focused on training full-time beginning in October, he added, for both the International Space Station and the Crew Dragon.

The mission requires Axiom to secure a complicated arrangement of agreements with partners including SpaceX, Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center, and more.

The agreement covers items like food and water for the crewmembers, professional astronaut time to prepare the space station for the vehicle's visit, and other costs associated with visiting the space station, NASA and Axiom representatives said during the news conference.

The costs incorporated into the agreement were determined in 2019, when NASA first announced it would be willing to welcome up to two private astronaut flights to the space station per year, each for up to 30 days.

That price change is due to Axiom and other similar companies wanting more visits to the space station than NASA can support, according to NASA officials.

"We are seeing a lot of interest in private astronaut missions," Angela Hart, manager of commercial low Earth orbit development at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said during the news conference.

Axiom also holds an agreement with NASA to send a habitable commercial module to dock with the International Space Station.

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