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First all-private astronaut crew arrives at ISS

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By AP
Three paying passengers arrive at International Space Station, Saturday 9 April 2022
Three paying passengers arrive at International Space Station, Saturday 9 April 2022   -   Copyright  Axion Space y NASA vía AP   -  

Three wealthy businessmen and their astronaut escort, who blasted off on a SpaceX rocket on Friday, have arrived in orbit at the International Space Station where they'll stay for more than a week. 

The US space agency NASA has now joined Russia in hosting guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination -- and this launch marks SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for NASA.

The men are a mix of nationalities -- from America, Canada and Israel -- and they're paying more than €50 million each for the rocket ride and accommodations, all meals included.

Russia has been hosting tourists at the space station, and before that the Mir station, for decades. Just last fall, a Russian movie crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.

NASA is finally getting into the act, after years of opposing space station visitors.

“It was a hell of a ride and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days,” said former NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria on reaching orbit.

The visitors' tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station. They’ll need permission from the three cosmonauts on board.

The private Axiom Space company arranged the visit with NASA for its three paying customers.

SpaceX and NASA have been upfront with them about the risks of spaceflight, said Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months at the space station 15 years ago.

Each visitor has a full slate of experiments to conduct during their stay, one reason they don’t like to be called space tourists.

The three businessmen are the latest to take advantage of the opening of space to those with deep pockets. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on 10-minute rides to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic expects to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.

The flight is the second private charter for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day orbit ride last year.

Axiom is targeting next year for its second private flight to the space station. More customer trips will follow, with Axiom adding its own rooms to the orbiting complex beginning in 2024. After about five years, the company plans to detach its compartments to form a self-sustaining station, one of several commercial outposts intended to replace the space station once it's retired and NASA shifts to the moon.