Axiom Space’s first privately funded trip to the International Space Station will be as notable for who’s not on the crew as for who is.
Sorry, Tom Cruise: Your filmed-in-space movie will have to wait.
Since last May, Tom Cruise fans and space fans have been buzzing over reports that the star of “Top Gun” and the “Mission: Impossible” movies was working with NASA and SpaceX to fly to the space station and shoot scenes for a movie.
The full crew was revealed on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” on January 26th: Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria will command the Crew Dragon mission. Investors Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe are paying $55 million each to join Lopez-Alegria for a 10-day station stayover in 2022. Axiom says it’s still working with NASA to iron out the details.
Even without Cruise, there could be some movie-worthy twists to the mission’s tale. Connor turned 71 years old this month, which sets him up to become the second septuagenarian to go into orbit. (The late astronaut-senator John Glenn, who flew on the shuttle Discovery in 1998 at the age of 77, was the first.)
“Somebody said to me, ‘You’ll be the second-oldest person ever to go into outer space.’ And my response, which they already knew, was ‘Well, I think age is overrated,’” Connor, who heads an Ohio real-estate investment firm, told ABC News.
Connor, who is a private pilot, will be given the title of mission pilot for the Ax-1 mission. Pathy and Stibbe will fly as mission specialists.
Pathy is a Montreal businessman and philanthropist who’s following in the footsteps of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy LaLiberte as a Canadian citizen-astronaut. Stibbe, a former fighter pilot, will be the second Israeli citizen to fly in space (after Ilan Ramon, who died nearly 18 years ago when the space shuttle Columbia broke up during descent).
Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will be the mission’s backup commander. John Shoffner, an entrepreneur and racing enthusiast who lives in Tennessee, will be the backup pilot. Both the prime and the backup crew members will undergo 15 weeks of training.
“This collection of pioneers — the first space crew of its kind — represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” Lopez-Alegría, a veteran of four spaceflights, said in a news release.
Commercial spaceflight participants have visited the space station since 2001, when California investment adviser Dennis Tito took a precedent-setting orbital trip on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. But Ax-1 will be the first privately funded mission to take full advantage of a space commercialization initiative that NASA unveiled in 2019.
Cruise, Liman and other Hollywood types could reserve their own spots for further-out space odysseys — either on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has already carried professional astronauts on two missions to the space station; or on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi, which could start flying NASA crews this year.
“This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home,” said Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini, who was NASA’s space station program manager from 2005 to 2015.
If Axiom Space follows through on its current business plan, it could eventually offer spacefliers a new home away from home: a habitation module that’s being designed and built for the company’s customers. When the space station is retired, that module could drift off to become Axiom’s very own orbital outpost.
An earlier version of this report was published on Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log.
Lead image: Mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria (far left) will be accompanied by Mark Pathy, Larry Connor and Eylan Stibbe on a 10-day visit to the International Space Station. Credit: Axiom Space