Wealthy international crew forks over millions to fly Crew Dragon to space station

Axiom Space reveals three investors will fly to ISS, possibly in early 2022

The Axiom-1 crew from left to right: former NASA astronaut and Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría, Mark Pathy, Larry Connor and Eytan Stibbe. Image credit: Axiom (WKMG 2020)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A group of uber-rich international businessmen will fly in a SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station, launching from Florida within a year, Axiom Space revealed Tuesday.

The private Houston space company unveiled its first paying crew Tuesday, known as the Axiom Mission 1, or AX-1, who have paid a whopping $55 million for their seats inside the Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX made history last year, becoming the first private company to fly NASA astronauts to the space station, returning human spaceflight operations from Florida’s Space Coast.

Former NASA astronaut and current Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría, 62, will be the commander of the mission. He last visited the ISS in 2007, his fourth spaceflight with NASA, flying on both the space shuttle and with Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. He will become the first person to command both a NASA and a commercial mission to the ISS.

While López-Alegría is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity,” Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA, told The Associated Press.

The all male crew includes Larry Connor, 71, managing partner of The Connor Group, an Ohio-based real estate investment firm that operates and owns luxury apartments in 13 major U.S. cities. On its website, Axiom lists Connor as a “entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor.”

Cincinnati.com reports Connor made $1.6 million last year on the stock market and gave it back to his employees in bonuses. The Connor Group has also made millions in contributions to Dayton, Ohio-area schools and hospitals, reports Dayton.com.

To complete the crew, an Israeli and Canadian will join as mission specialists.

Mark Pathy, 51, a Canadian businessman, will become Canada’s 11th person to achieve spaceflight as a mission specialist on AX-1. According to Pathy’s LinkedIn profile, he is the CEO of the Stingray Group, a Montreal-based global music, media and technology company.

Eytan Stibbe, 63, is an Israeli businessman and former Israeli Air Force pilot and the founding Director of Vital Capital Fund, an investment firm in Africa. He will become Israel’s second astronaut, according to Axiom. Stibbe was also a close friend of Israeli’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died at 48 when Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry over Texas in 2003.

The first crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

“This collection of pioneers – the first space crew of its kind – represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said in a statement. “I know from firsthand experience that what humans encounter in space is profound and propels them to make more meaningful contributions on returning to Earth. And as much as any astronaut who has come before them, the members of this crew have accomplished the sorts of things in life that equip them to accept that responsibility, act on that revelation, and make a truly global impact.”

After receiving some criticism for the all male crew. The company said in a tweet, “We are in conversation with numerous private astronaut prospects of all backgrounds at all times. The composition of this crew was determined by who was ready to commit to training and flying now.”

Former NASA astronaut and 10-time spacewalker Peggy Whitson will train as the backup commander should López-Alegría be unable to command the AX-1 flight. Another customer, John Shoffner, of Knoxville, is the backup mission pilot, according to Axiom.

“The next best thing to flying in space is training for it!” Whitson said in a tweet. “Looking forward to the commercial evolution.”

Both the backup and primary crews will go through Axiom’s astronaut training program together, according to the company.

Axiom Space also plans to fly actor Tom Cruise to the ISS for a film project but has not revealed many details about that launch, also with SpaceX.

In addition to private spaceflight for paying customers, Axiom plans to build a private space station that will first be attached to the current International Space Station.

Nearly one year ago, NASA revealed Axiom Space had been awarded access to the space station’s Node 2 Forward port to begin building its commercial space station.

Axiom Space plans to launch a module connecting to the port, then a research and manufacturing facility, as well as a crew habitat and an Earth observatory with large windows. The whole structure will form the “Axiom Segment” of the current ISS.

The company is partnering with Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines and Maxar Technologies on the project.

The first module will launch in the second half of 2024, according to Axiom.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Author:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Previously, Emilee was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a producer at the Naples Daily News.