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NASA partners with Axiom for first private astronaut mission to space station

NASA and private space infrastructure company Axiom Space have signed an order kickstarting the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission, known as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), is set to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no sooner than January of next year, according to a NASA release.

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The Ax-1 private astronauts include Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe and mission commander Michael López-Alegría. Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner are “backups.”

Over the summer, all four will undergo NASA medical qualification testing, reviews and training done by the agency, its international partners and SpaceX.

The Houston, Texas-based company has contracted the Elon Musk-owned spaceflight company for transportation and the Ax-1 astronauts will travel to the orbital laboratory aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The Axiom astronauts will spend eight days on the ISS, and NASA and Axiom will plan joint activities for the private astronauts to conduct with space station crew members and flight controllers.

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In addition, Axiom will reportedly buy “services” and supplies for the mission from NASA, including the ability to return scientific samples back to Earth, cargo, storage and crew supplies.

NASA said that the partnership — including the February decision to award Axiom a contract to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the ISS — is part of its larger plan to “develop a robust and competitive economy in low-Earth orbit.”

The agency said that enabling Ax-1 is “an important step to stimulate demand for commercial human spaceflight services so NASA can be one of many customers in low-Earth orbit.”

Commercial spaceflight and space tourism are already large parts of the future of space exploration and Axiom Space joins a growing list of companies — including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin — working to achieve similar goals.

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“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,” Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement

“A thriving commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit begins with expanding access to serious, nontraditional users and that is exactly the aim of our private astronaut missions,” he added. 


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