KEY POINTS

  • NASA and Axiom have teamed up to launch a private astronaut mission set to bring civilians to outer space no earlier than January 2022
  • Tickets to the International Space Station are priced at $55 million each, reports say
  • The four-man crew will be led by former NASA astronaut and space station commander Michael López-Alegría

NASA and Houston-based startup Axiom Space have partnered to launch the world's first-ever commercial spaceflight mission. The private astronaut mission headed to the International Space Station (ISS) is set to take off no earlier than January 2022, the space agency has revealed.

As humanity prepares to set foot on Mars, private companies are also progressing in their goal to launch civilians off the planet. In a teleconference Monday, Axiom and NASA unveiled more details about the forthcoming Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) to the space station.

The mission will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. The crew comprising four private astronauts will then spend eight days on the ISS, working and participating in in-orbit activities with the station's crew members, NASA said in a press release on the space agency's website.

Extraordinary feats come with extraordinary fees as well. While Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini did not give an exact amount for how much the private astronauts paid for their trip to the ISS, he said he “wouldn’t argue with” reports that the figure is in the tens of millions. In January, The Washington Post reported that each ticket cost a staggering $55 million.

“The first private crew to visit the International Space Station is a watershed moment in humanity’s expansion of the planet and we are glad to partner with NASA in making it happen,” said Suffredini, according to the press release. “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.”

The crew's supplies, storage and other in-orbit resources will be provided by NASA. The space agency will pay Axiom $1.69 million for the transportation of supplies to the ISS and scientific samples from the space station to researchers on the ground. Additional agreements remain to be negotiated.

"There are a multitude of other additional reimbursable Space Act Agreements that Axiom and SpaceX have with NASA that have other contract values," said Angela Hart, manager of commercial low-Earth orbit development at the Johnson Space Center. "Those include training services, as well as launch services at the Cape and other items that we're still negotiating. So that is not the full value of all the services that Axiom is responsible for."

Commercial spaceflights are part of NASA's plan to develop a thriving economy outside Earth. By opening up the ISS to a variety of commercial activities, the space agency believes this could be a good way to achieve that goal.

“We are excited to see more people have access to spaceflight through this first private astronaut mission to the space station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA.

“One of our original goals with the Commercial Crew Program, and again with our Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program, is that our providers have customers other than NASA to grow a commercial economy in low-Earth orbit,” she added.

The Ax-1 mission proposed former NASA astronaut and space station commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe as prime crew members, with López-Alegría serving as mission commander.

Once the crew passes the qualification process, they will then begin training at NASA where they will be taught about the systems, procedures and emergency preparedness needed for their flight.

Tom Cruise was previously expected to be part of the Ax-1 mission as NASA announced last year that it is working with the actor to film a movie on the ISS, CNBC reported.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet is among the four crew on the Crew Dragon capsule set to dock with the International Space Station French astronaut Thomas Pesquet is among the four crew on the Crew Dragon capsule set to dock with the International Space Station Photo: SPACEX / -