NASA to send more tourists to International Space Station

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NASA: Since October, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has dispatched four amateur astronauts to the International Space Station in two flights, ushering in a new era of space tourism. Now, NASA is preparing for its first such voyage in February 2022, which will be organized by commercial spaceflight company Axiom and will use SpaceX hardware.

This Monday, NASA announced its second private mission to the International Space Station, which would once again use Axiom. Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2022 or early spring of 2023.

The crew will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a rocket that will dock with the space station for up to 14 days.

There’s no word on who will be taking the voyage yet, but it’s possible that it may be actor Tom Cruise, after NASA disclosed last year that it was in talks with the Hollywood star about filming scenes on the orbiting station. However, with Russian actress Yulia Peresild just beating Cruise to become the first actress to shoot a film in space, it’s unclear whether Cruise still finds the journey appealing.

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“NASA and its international partners will examine Axiom’s proposed private astronauts for the Ax-2 trip, as is normal for any space station crew,” NASA stated on Monday. “To be allowed for flight, the suggested crewmembers would have to pass NASA medical qualification testing.”

Low-Earth Orbit Commercialization

Private citizen spaceflights to the International Space Station are part of NASA’s objective to commercialize low-Earth orbit.

Axiom’s maiden flight, scheduled for early next year, will transport three civilians and a former astronaut to the International Space Station for a week-long stay. The three civilians — an investor, an entrepreneur, and a veteran fighter pilot — are said to have paid a whopping $55 million for the once-in-a-lifetime journey, with the money split between Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA.

The private astronauts will conduct their own research and work on various humanitarian projects while aboard the station.

Apart from the actor and filmmaker who visited the ISS in October thanks to various Russian media businesses, Roscosmos recently transported two Japanese space tourists to the station, including millionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa. It’s unclear how much he paid for the trip.

While some may argue that the space agencies are turning the ISS into a playground for the wealthy, some of the funds raised by the tourists will be used to fund ongoing scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory, relieving the burden on taxpayers and potentially resulting in scientific and technological advancements that benefit humans on the ground.

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