A few decades ago, the idea of private individuals travelling to the International Space Station was as much science fiction as a time travelling police box. Yet here we are, in 2024 and a crew of four private astronauts are on board the ISS. The team will spend about two weeks undertaking various experiments, commercial activities and outreach tasks.
Axiom Space was founded in 2016 by Michael Suffredini and Kam Ghaffarian. Their goal, to arrange private missions into space, chiefly the ISS but they are also developing spacesuits for NASA’s future missions to the Moon. In realisting these goals, the team at Axiom Space have the wonderful dream ‘We are on a mission to reveal it [space] to as many humans as possible’.
On the 18th January four private astronauts were launched to ISS on the Dragon spacecraft, propelled by the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket. The private mission was the third such enterprise by Axiom Space, the first mission flew in April 2022 and the second in May 2023. The crew for this mission composed of Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Walter Villadei, and Mission Specialists Marcus Wandt and Alper Gezeravci.
The crew arrived at the ISS on Saturday 20th January when the Dragon module autonomously docked with the Harmony module. When the hatch opens the Axiom crew will be welcomed by the Expedition 70 crew including NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, JAXA astronaut Furukawa Satoshi and cosmonauts Konstantin Borisov, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub.
AX-3 (as this mission is called) is due to depart from the ISS on Saturday 3rd February, weather permitting. They will have spent two weeks on board before returning to Earth, touching down to a wet arrival off the coast of Florida.
Axiom Space, and their partnership with NASA are doing great things, opening up low Earth orbit to more and more people. In the 1950’s and 1960’s we saw the space race where America and Russia were in a battle to become the first to get into space and to put a human on the Moon. Now the landscape for space travel and exploration has changed. Partnerships between large space organisations like NASA and private enterprises like Axiom are driving a thriving commercial space economy that may once and for all, open up space to us all.