NASA and Houston-based Axiom Space have signed a “mission order” setting the stage for four civilians to visit the International Space Station early next year, the first fully commercial flight to the orbiting lab complex, agency managers said Monday. CBS News reports: Axiom’s “AX-1” mission and an upcoming charity-driven flight to low-Earth orbit, both aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules, represent “a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development. “I think that’s the perfect word for what we’re experiencing,” he said of the growing commercial space market, which includes the anticipated certification of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and upcoming sub-orbital flights by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. “This is a real inflection point, I think, with human spaceflight.”
Axiom Space, led by Mike Suffredini, NASA’s former space station program manager, announced last year that it plans to launch a four-man crew to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The launch is currently targeted for a January timeframe. Axiom Vice President Mike Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut and space station commander, will serve as commander of the AX-1 mission, which is expected to last about 10 days. Joining him will be Larry Connor, an American entrepreneur, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot.
Lopez-Alegria on Monday told reporters that the crew will participate in centrifuge training and flights to simulate weightlessness starting next week, followed by a camping trip to Alaska in July for “bonding and leadership training.” Lopez-Alegria and Connor, the mission pilot, will begin SpaceX flight training shortly thereafter before the entire crew begins space station familiarization at the Johnson Space Center in October. […] Axiom is not paying list price for the AX-1 mission, in part because planning began before the new price guidelines were determined and because the company will be providing services to NASA that the agency would otherwise have to pay for. The mission order announced Monday covers just $1.69 million. Additional agreements remain to be negotiated.