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A private company has a crew going to the ISS next year

Axiom Space will launch the first private crew of astronauts into orbit in late 2021, for a visit to the International Space Station.
November 12, 2020
axiom Michael Lopez-Alegria
axiom Michael Lopez-Alegria
Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria will be one of four private astronauts to go up to the ISS as a part of the Ax-1 mission.NASA

Axiom Space has signed three private astronauts to join former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría on Ax-1, the first private mission into orbit and to the International Space Station.

The mission: In March, Axiom Space announced plans to launch “history’s first fully private human spaceflight mission to the International Space Station.” The mission, dubbed Ax-1, would go forward using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle to deliver private astronauts to the ISS for at least eight days. 

At the International Astronautical Congress last month, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said the company was aiming to launch in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The crew: Details are still sparse. We know that former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría will be part of the mission, but the three other astronauts have not been announced yet. (Update 11/16: Former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe was announced as the second member of the crew, by Israeli president Reuven Rivlin on Twitter.) The promotional image Axiom posted Wednesday features three male silhouettes, suggesting there will be no female astronauts on board.

There is some excitable chatter on Twitter and other places suggesting that two of the other astronauts might be actor Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman, who have been in talks with NASA about filming a movie on the ISS. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned in June that Axiom was involved in those talks.  

Broader implications: Beyond moviemaking, Ax-1 would be a milestone for NASA’s goal of opening up the ISS to private industry activity, and using the space station as a platform to spur increased commercialization of low Earth orbit, before its planned life span ends by 2030. Axiom plans to launch a habitat module to attach to the ISS in 2024, which is supposed to be just the first part of a larger private space station to be constructed and assembled throughout the rest of the decade. 

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