For $55 million each, SpaceX sends three visitors to the International Space Station.

On Friday, SpaceX flew three wealthy businessmen and their astronaut escorts to the International Space Station for a stay of more than a week, joining Russia in welcoming visitors to the world’s most costly tourist attraction.

This is SpaceX’s first private charter mission there after two years of transporting humans to the orbiting lab for NASA.

Arrival at the International Space Station Saturday’s guests include an American, a Canadian, and an Israeli who operate real estate investments and other businesses. They’re paying $55 million each for the rocket journey and accommodations, which include all meals.

This photo provided by SpaceX shows the SpaceX crew seated in the Dragon spacecraft on Friday, April 8, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. SpaceX is scheduled to launch three rich businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station for more than a week’s stay. Credit: SpaceX via AP

For decades, Russia has hosted tourists at the space station and, before that, the Mir station. A Russian film crew arrived last fall, followed by a Japanese fashion entrepreneur and his assistant.

After years of opposing space station visitors, NASA is now getting in on the act.

On reaching orbit, retired NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria commented, “It was a hell of a ride, and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days.”

“I honestly think that it won’t be awkward. I mean maybe a tiny bit,” he said. He expects the “spirit of collaboration will shine through.”


The visitors’ tickets grant access to all areas of the space station except the Russian section, which requires approval from the three cosmonauts on board. There are three Americans and one German that live up there as well.

Lopez-Alegria intends to avoid discussing politics and the Ukraine conflict while aboard the space station.

“I honestly don’t believe it will be awkward. Maybe only a smidgeon, “he stated. He expects the “collaborative spirit” to shine through.

The visit was arranged by the private Axiom Space firm for three paying customers: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who manages the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Montreal’s Mavrik Corp.; and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.

Their excitement was palpable before the trip. When Stibbe arrived at the launch platform at Kennedy Space Center, he did a little dance.

According to Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months on the space station 15 years ago, SpaceX and NASA have been forthright with them about the risks of spaceflight.

Before the trip, “I don’t think there’s any haze on what the hazards are or what the bad days could look like,” Lopez-Alegria told The Associated Press before the journey.

NASA’s head of space operations, Kathy Lueders, said there’s a lot to learn from this first entirely private station visit. But gosh, was this launch a tremendous start? “She told reporters.”

Each visitor has a full schedule of experiments to complete during their stay, which is one of the reasons they dislike being referred to as space tourists.

“They’re not up there to stick their nose in the window,” said Michael Suffredini, co-founder and president of Axiom and a former NASA space station program manager.

The three businessmen are the most recent to take advantage of the increased availability of space for those with deep resources. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ rocket business, is offering 10-minute flights to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic plans to begin flying clients on its rocket ship later this year.

Friday’s voyage is Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s second private charter, following a three-day orbit excursion for a millionaire and his companions last year. In just a few weeks, SpaceX will launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station for the fifth time.

Axiom plans to launch its second private flight to the space station next year. More client journeys will follow, with Axiom beginning to add its rooms to the circling complex in 2024. After around five years, the company intends to detach its compartments to construct a self-sustaining station—one of several commercial outposts aimed at replacing the space station once it is retired and NASA shifts to the moon.

During Friday’s launch, NASA’s new moon rocket was completing a dress rehearsal for a midsummer test flight on a neighboring pad.

The four tourists are eating paella and other Spanish cuisine provided by the famous chef José Andrés as a gift for their seven-station hosts. NASA’s freeze-dried meals will have to suffice for the rest of their tenure on the station.

The automated SpaceX spacecraft and its four occupants are scheduled to return on April 19, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

Connor is sending a fabric swatch from the Wright brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk plane and gold foil from the Apollo 11 command module from the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta to celebrate Ohio’s air and space legacy.

Stibbe will carry on a thunderstorm experiment started by the first Israeli in space, Ilan Ramon, who died on board the shuttle Columbia in 2003. They were both fighter pilots in the same squadron.

Stibbe is carrying retrieved pages from Ramon’s space diaries, as well as a song written by Ramon’s musician son and a painting of pages falling from the sky created by his daughter.

“Being a part of this special group proves to me that no dream is out of reach,” he remarked.

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