How historic is the first private mission to the ISS?

The new face of private commercial aerospace is becoming increasingly clear; for the first time, a 100% civilian crew will remain onboard the ISS for more than a week.

It was just a matter of time. At a time when the private aerospace sector is gaining momentum and space tourism appears to be on the way to democratization, SpaceX once again made history with a great debut; the company will transport a 100% private crew of four civilian astronauts to the International Space Station.

As we’ve already seen when Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin took the first civilian crews to the gates of space, prices were once again astronomical. Apparently, each passenger in the Crew Dragon capsule would have to pay around US$ 55 million, although this amount has not been officially confirmed.

This rookie crew is made up of entrepreneurs Larry Connor and Marth Pathy, and former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe. However, they will be able to reassure themselves thanks to the presence of another much more experienced passenger; is Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut. Qualification that earned him the honor of being appointed commander of the mission.

A 100% civilian crew had never joined the ISS

However, an important distinction must be made: it is the first time that a 100% civilian crew will embark on the ISS. But that doesn’t mean no space rookies have set foot there. A Russian crew has already been there to film a movie called “The Challenge”. A Japanese billionaire has also offered himself that privilege in the meantime. Tom Cruise has also planned to make a movie there.

But all of them were or will be systematically monitored by experienced and active professionals, which will not be the case in this mission. The other particularity of this mission is that those interested flatly refuse to qualify as “space tourists”. And it’s not just semantic frustration; there is a real difference in approach compared to “real” tourists, such as those who participated in the Inspiration4 mission.

In fact, this crew will remain on board the station for about a week. And there’s no question of making extras or twiddling your thumbs. They carry with them a total of 25 well-defined scientific experiments. They are also more serious than those practiced by the Inspiration 4 crew, which were more themed activities than actual science.

Civilians but not tourists

They will participate in work related to subjects as varied as they are serious, such as physiology in microgravity or meteorology. To complete this program, they will remain aboard the station for about a week. A significant delay that imposed a very demanding training on them.

🇧🇷It is important to differentiate between private astronauts and space tourists”, explains Larry Connor. 🇧🇷We spend between 750 and 1000 hours training“, guarantees to illustrate the difference with the 10 to 15 hours required in the first case.

A training that will have allowed them to learn the fundamentals of life in space; these are critical maneuvers to be carried out in an emergency situation, but also everyday tasks such as hygiene in microgravity.

But that obviously remains unrivaled with the professional astronaut program. The latter spend whole years in training; they absolutely have to master all the logistics of the ISS at their fingertips and be able to take on missions outside the station, which our neophytes will not do under any pretext.

In any case, it is a new symbolic step taken on the way to a new paradigm. Aerospace space was originally the exclusive property of government agencies like NASA. But since the 2000s and in particular since 2014, this industry has started to pivot towards a new model.

© SpaceX

A new step towards the private aerospace sector of tomorrow

Today, we have extremely powerful private companies, both in technological and economic terms. We can mention SpaceX, which is undoubtedly the best example, but they are not the only ones. And this new industry, in which the private sector now plays a decisive role, is paving the way for a second stage of transformation with the gradual opening to the general public.

Currently, we are still far from being able to talk about democratization; after all, wealthy clients who could afford a trip worth tens of millions don’t roam the streets. But the more time passes, the closer that deadline seems to be.

The industry is full of signs that clearly point in that direction; we can notably mention SpaceX and its reusable rockets or Blue Origin and its vast project of tourist space stations. And they are not alone; industry standards are slowly but surely beginning to evolve to favor this type of mission.

This is also the first objective of Axiom, the company that partnered with SpaceX on this mission. The company has already planned three more missions of this type in preparation for the creation of its own space station specially designed to accommodate civilians.

🇧🇷This really represents the first step where some individuals who want to do something meaningful in orbit and who are not members of a government can take advantage of this opportunity.”, explains Max Suffredini, former head of the ISS at NASA and now CEO of Axiom.

It’s not tomorrow that Madame and Monsieur All will be able to rent a night on board the ISS like in a hotel. But what is certain is that that deadline is fast approaching; if aerospace continues on its path, the next generation could become the first to be able to order a round trip on a rocket like buying a train ticket.

Takeoff is scheduled for 17:17 Paris time. You can catch up on it on the SpaceX website or on the NASA stream in the body of the article.

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