(CN) — The world’s most expensive tourist trip commenced Friday, when SpaceX launched three paying customers and a former NASA astronaut toward the International Space Station, where they will sojourn for a week.
The 10-day mission aboard Ax-1 marks the first time SpaceX is supporting a fully private mission to the International Space Station, with the three individuals paying about $55 million a pop to be on the flight. Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, Mark Mathy, a Canadian from Montreal and Israeli Eytan Stibbe are all active in investments, real estate and other companies.
Meals are included on what is the most expensive pleasure cruises the world has seen.
While the trip is a pioneering one for SpaceX and the United States, Russia has been hosting tourists at the International Space Station for decades. Last month, a film crew from Russia occupied the station for about 12 days to film a fictional account of a surgeon who is rushed to the space station to perform emergency surgery. The Russians also recently hosted a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant on the space station.
NASA was opposed to tourist visits to the space station for years, but with the advent of private space companies like SpaceX, the agency relented and is seeing the potential for offsetting the costs of its missions by letting wealthy individuals tag along.
While the three men who blasted off Friday did pony up, each will also be participating in a full slate of experiments with the three Americans, one German and three Russians that live on the space station year-round.
For this reason, the three bristle at being called space tourists, particularly as Connor was a fighter pilot before he became a successful businessman. Connor's experiment will be a study of the effect that space has on senescent cells, which are linked to aging and disease.
The three private individuals will be led by Michael Lopez-Algeria, a former NASA astronaut, who has been to the International Space Station on a previous mission along with three other space missions.
He said SpaceX has been up front with the amount of risk the individuals face as space flight remains an extremely dangerous enterprise.
“There’s no fuzz, I think, on what the dangers are or what the bad days could look like,” Lopez-Alegria told The Associated Press before the flight.
There was some talk of tensions aboard the International Space Station, given that it is a cooperative venture between United States and Russia, which has incurred international wrath over its invasion of Ukraine.
But Lopez-Algeria said they will strive to maintain the spirit of cooperation that has characterized the sharing of the International Space Station since its initial launch in 1998.
“I honestly think that it won’t be awkward,” he said. “I mean maybe a tiny bit.”
NASA has gone out of its way to say publicly that despite historic sanctions placed on Russia and some of its wealthy citizens by the Biden administration, they have continued to coordinate with Russian space scientists on the space station.
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