KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Sending private citizens to NASA’s International Space Station from American soil had never happened until Friday because NASA hadn’t allowed it.
NASA changed its longstanding policy in 2019 to allow “private” astronauts to visit the space station to begin commercializing low-earth orbit, according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“We want to get out of low-earth orbit,” Nelson said. “We want to get to the moon to live and work in hostile environments for all period of times in order to get to Mars. That’s where we want to focus in the human space program.”
So Axiom Space, run by a former NASA Space Station program manager, is capitalizing on the opportunity, buying rocket rides from SpaceX and reimbursing NASA for the space station time and resources.
On Friday, Axiom launched a Canadian philanthropist, an Israeli fighter pilot who was a close friend of the first Israeli astronaut killed on Shuttle Columbia in 2003, and a charitable thrill-seeking real estate investor from Ohio. The Axiom-1 mission was commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, now an Axiom employee, who holds the records for most spacewalks.
Eight of the next ten days will include eating, sleeping and experimenting on the Space Station. The crew brought with them 25 experiments from hospitals and universities all over the world, including the University of Central Florida, experiments that otherwise might never have made it to space.
The four men said they expect to be extremely busy in space, proving themselves worthy of the “astronaut” title.
Axiom has been contracted by NASA to begin adding modules to the ISS starting in 2024, eventually to become its own space station after the ISS is deorbited in 2030.