- Space tourists have been flying into orbit since the millionaire made the first such flight in 2001.
- Now, the startup Axiom Space has chartered its first fully private orbital mission, called Ax-1, which may launch as early as October 2021.
- Flight captain Michael Lopez Alegria, a former NASA astronaut, will be joined by three private passengers, likely among them Tom Cruise And director Doug Lyman.
- “It’s important for me to respect our staff,” Lopez Alegria told Insider. “I do not want to give anyone any excuses so that he does not love us.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
This year, a private company may charter a private spaceship, fill it with private passengers, and fly it into orbit in the hands of a private astronaut.
The mission is preparing to be the first of its kind, and the gravity of that responsibility is not lost on the shoulders of its leader, Michael Lopez-Alegria, a retired NASA astronaut turned vice president of business development at Axiom Space, which funds the historic aviation project.
“I really want this crew – which sets the standard for commercial human spaceflight forever, if you really think about it – be as good as possible,” Lopez Alegria recently He told Insider in a wide-ranging interview.
Called Ax-1, the mission could be launched as early as October in a Crew Dragon spaceship over a Falcon 9 rocket, both built by SpaceX, the airline that Elon Musk founded.
Lopez Alegria will fill the position of mission commander, joined by a businessman and former Israeli fighter pilot Eitan Step. Although not officially announced, all evidence so far points to the other two passengers Actor will be Tom Cruise And the Director Doug Lyman. The crew will board to the International Space Station, stay for about a week (as Cruz and Lehmann plan to shoot a movie), and return to Earth.
“I met one of them personally, just because of the conditions of COVID,” said Lopez Alegria. “But I feel like I got to know them very well and ironically, even though they are private astronauts, these three individuals feel like people who might have been chosen as astronauts before – which means I feel they all have the right things.”
But Lopez Alegria has made it clear that he is not planning to go easy on them.
“I have to play both the good cop and the bad cop.”
In 2001, millionaire businessman and engineer Denis Tito became the first orbital space tourist to pay for his own method, flying aboard the Russian Soyuz spaceship to the International Space Station. The opposition and objections from the NASA leadership and astronauts were numerous and strong.
“The argument NASA used is that I am not eligible,” Tito Forbes in 2017. But he noted that Russia has trained astronauts for four decades. “It was an insult to suggest they would slip into an untrained person,” he said. “For me, writing the check was a small part of it. For eight months, I trained at the Astronaut Center outside Moscow at a Soviet-style military base. I lived in a two-room apartment, arranged my own bed and cooked my meals.”
Tito opened the door to many others like him, ultimately helping to change minds within NASA – including Lopez Alegria.
He said, “I wasn’t very happy to be flying with a private astronaut in 2006, and I was already home with another private astronaut. I wasn’t very excited about that.” “But my experience with the first experience – Anousheh Ansari – really changed my viewpoint. Actually, that’s really why I entered the commercial space, because of that experience.”
After some time at Axiom, which wants to rent some special missions to the International Space Station annually, Lopez-Alegria raised his hand to lead the first. With four spaceflight under his belt, and his past experience with private passengers, it appeared as a natural choice when the question arose between Axiom commanders.
“My job as a leader is to try to identify everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, including my strengths and weaknesses, and to build the strongest team possible using that knowledge intelligently. I have great confidence that this crew will not only succeed but exceed NASA’s expectations,” he said of Ax 1.
López-Alegría says the Axiom will begin crew training about four months before launch, although that will likely extend due to the frequent slipping in the rocket launch schedule. He intends to take advantage of that time.
“It’s an interesting needle that I have to tie down. On the one hand, I strongly believe that human spaceflight is possible for a large majority of the population. You don’t have to be Superman, you don’t have to be Einstein, you don’t have to be Da Vinci. You just have to be open-minded.” And ready to learn, ”said Lopez Alegria.
On the other hand, added López-Alegría, they must be professional, prepared, and meticulous – and he is willing to switch between a drill sergeant and a mother Walker to encourage them in any way required.
“I have to play both the good cop and the bad cop,” he said. “I think the bigger message is that we are a family as a crew. We really have to work together as a team, and we have to learn how to communicate, and we have to stick to each other. I think we’re really on the path to success.”
The serious start of a commercial era in human spaceflight
López-Alegría says he will be more vigilant with his crew not only because of the risks to his company, but because of the entire commercial spaceflight project.
In fact, despite NASA’s historical objections to tourists’ space travel, the agency recently prepared the idea. In 2019, it announced that ordinary citizens could stay in US modules for a cost of around $ 35,000 a night. A year later, NASA began funding efforts to help build special alternatives to the International Space Station, which would be taken out of orbit around 2030.
Axiom from its part He wants to build a multi-unit facility in orbit called the Axiom Station, Or AxStation, before the International Space Station was destroyed.
“People at NASA started to realize that the International Space Station was a finite resource, and that in order to have a successor, we need to start planting the seeds of an economy in Low Earth Orbit. So they started to open their arms more and more for business ideas.”
However, Lopez Alegria remains aware no matter how hard he and his crew work, changing opinions within NASA and other astronaut teams and space agencies around the world can be daunting.
“It is important for me to respect our staff. But I realize this is a daunting climb at the beginning; we are starting in a deficit. That’s part of why I didn’t want to give anyone any excuses for disliking us. If they don’t like us, it’s not because we’re not performing.” Well or not ready, not capable, or not good car operators – it’s for another reason that I think it can be overcome with socializing, explaining and just being good ambassadors. “