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Monday, September 26, 2022

Rich trio returning on Earth after charter trip to space station

Three affluent businessmen returned from the International Space Station with their astronaut escort Monday, finishing up a costly excursion that marked NASA’s debut as a B&B host.

Flying back in a SpaceX capsule, they splashed down in the Atlantic near the Florida coast to end up a 17-day journey that cost them $55 million each.

The expedition was meant to last a little over a week, but unpredictable weather kept the guests in orbit nearly twice as long as expected.

Before exiting the space station Sunday night, the group thanked their seven hosts, including three NASA astronauts whose own mission is approaching an end.

It was the first time NASA opened its space hatches to visitors after eschewing the technique established over the decades by Russia. Last October, a Russian film team flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion magnate and his assistant. In each occasion, an active-duty cosmonaut went with them.

The newest visitors were joined by a former NASA astronaut currently working for Axiom Space, the Houston corporation in charge of the voyage, making it the first wholly private trip to the space station.

After hosting longer than intended, NASA was anxious to make place for the next crew. SpaceX will aim to fly three NASA astronauts and one Italian to the space station as soon as Wednesday. They’ll replace the three Americans and a German up there since November who will go down to Earth in their own SpaceX spacecraft.

The speed is blazingly fast by NASA standards. SpaceX’s Benji Reed said the business flew its first passengers — a pair of NASA test pilots — two years ago and recently completed its first private journey to the space station using the same capsule.

Axiom handled the arrangements for the trip for its three paying customers: Connor from Dayton, Ohio; Canadian private equity CEO Mark Pathy; and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe of Tel Aviv. Their escort was Michael Lopez-Alegria, an Axiom vice president who travelled to space four times as a NASA astronaut.

Axiom joined up with SpaceX for the mission that started with an April 8 liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It was SpaceX’s second private trip, arriving only months after a billionaire’s orbital journey with prize winners.

The incident was extremely personal for Stibbe. He flew as a jet pilot under Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died onboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Stibbe flew copies of the remaining pages of Ramon’s space journal, as well as artwork and music produced by Ramon’s children. He celebrated Passover with matzah bread he picked up and gefilte fish given by the station’s Russians.

Axiom’s second mission is slated for next spring as the corporation looks forward to building its own space station by 2030.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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