SpaceX Rocket Carries First-Ever Private Crew Into Orbit

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SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carries first-ever crew of four private citizens to International Space Station as US seeks to commercialise spaceflight

A SpaceX rocket has launched an historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the first to the ISS crewed entirely by civilians.

Industry executives and the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hailed the trip as a milestone in the commercialisation of space and low-earth orbit.

The four-man team selected by Houston, Texas-based start-up Axiom Space lifted off at 11:17 a.m. EST (1517 GMT) on Friday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a ten-day mission.

It arrived at the space station on Saturday, after more than 20 hours of flight, with the autonomously operated Crew Dragon capsule docking with the ISS 250 miles above the Earth.

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NASA video showed the 25-storey-tall SpaceX launch vehicle, a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket bearing a Crew Dragon manned unit, streaking into blue skies over Florida’s coast.

Axiom is seeking to book private rides to the ISS for those who can afford them, providing them with all necessary training.

The US government and the private sector are seeking to boost commercial activity to the ISS and to space in general.

The AX-1 mission is commanded by Michael Lopez-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut now employed by Axiom.

The remaining three passengers are paying customers – Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, Canadian investor Mark Pathy and Ohio-based real estate magnate Larry Connor.

Russia has sold seats on its Soyuz spacecraft in the past, but AX-1 is the first mission to space with a crew entirely comprised of private individuals.

Industry milestone

It’s also the first time private citizens have travelled to the ISS on a US-made spacecraft.

Axiom has previously given a price of $55 million (£42m) per seat for a 10-day trip to the ISS, but declined to comment on the price for this particular mission, telling a press conference last year only that it is in the “tens of millions”.

NASA has said it charges $2,000 per day, per person for food in space with support from NASA astronauts costing commercial customers another $5.2m.

Mission support and planning by NASA costs an additional $4.8m, the agency has said.

Lopez-Alegría is a veteran of four trips to space from 1995 to 2007, during his time at NASA.