Commercial Space Travelers Outnumbered Professional Astronauts in First Half of 2022

Axiom Mission 1 astronauts, left to right, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Michael López-Alegría, and Eytan Stibbe. The astronauts are approved by NASA and its international partners for Axiom Space’s first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. (Credits: Chris Gunn – Axiom Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 saw more commercial travelers — 16 — launch into space than the 10 professional astronauts who work for government-run space agencies. However, those numbers come with an asterisk or two.

Four of the 14 astronauts who launched into orbit flew on Axiom Space’s privately funded and operated crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Blue Origin launched 12 individuals into space on two flights of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The other 10 astronauts who launched to ISS and the Tiangong space station worked fulltime for NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), China Manned Space Agency, or Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation. SpaceX flew American and European astronauts to ISS on the company-owned Crew Dragon spacecraft under a NASA contract. The Russians and Chinese flew aboard government-owned and operated spacecraft.

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Axiom Space and Italian Government Sign Historic MOU to Expand Commercial Utilization of Space

The President and CEO of Axiom Space, Michael Suffredini (left), and Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation and Digital Transition, Vittorio Colao, (right) sign a MOU in Rome. The agreement furthers the Italian government’s and Axiom Space’s existing collaboration, including the potential for the development of space infrastructure integrated with the future Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station. (Image Credit: Axiom Space)

HOUSTON (Axiom Space PR) — Axiom Space, a leader in human spaceflight currently building the world’s first commercial space station, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Italian government to further their existing collaboration, including the potential for the development of space infrastructure integrated with the future Axiom Station. The agreement was signed by the President and CEO of Axiom Space, Michael Suffredini, and Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation and Digital Transition, Vittorio Colao, on 19 May in Rome, Italy.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches 53 Starlink Satellites

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX)

On Friday, April 29 at 5:27 p.m. ET, Falcon 9 launched 53 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

It was the quickest turnaround for a Falcon 9 first stage booster. Twenty-one days earlier, the stage had launched the privately funded Axiom-1 mission to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft. It was the sixth launch overall for the first stage, which also launched GPS III Space Vehicle 04, GPS III Space Vehicle 05, Inspiration4 and a Starlink mission.

Private Axiom 1 Mission Splashes Down After 17 Days in Space

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Axiom Space astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe, and Mark Pathy have safely returned to Earth, marking the end of the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) – the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, carrying the crew of four and more than 200 pounds of science and supplies, including NASA experiments and hardware, undocked from the space station at 9:10 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 24. About 16 hours later, the vehicle splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

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Axiom Mission 1 Undock Postponed to Sunday, Space Station Reboosts

The 11-person crew aboard the station comprises of (clockwise from bottom right) Expedition 67 Commander Tom Marshburn with Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, Sergey Korsakov, Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer; and Axiom Mission 1 astronauts (center row from left) Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Conner, and Michael Lopez-Alegria. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — At the conclusion of a weather briefing ahead of today’s planned undocking, NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams elected to wave off today’s undocking attempt due to a diurnal low wind trough which has been causing marginally high winds at the splashdown sites. The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew is now targeting to undock from the International Space Station 8:55 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 24.

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NASA and SpaceX Push Back Crew-4 Launch to April 27

NASA astronauts and Crew-4 crewmembers Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren stand alongside ESA astronaut and Crew-4 crewmember Samantha Cristoforetti. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX now are targeting no earlier than 3:52 a.m. EDT Wednesday, April 27, for launch of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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Ax-1 Crew Departure Delayed to Saturday, Crew-4 Launch Delayed to NET Tuesday

The 11-person crew aboard the station comprises of (clockwise from bottom right) Expedition 67 Commander Tom Marshburn with Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, Sergey Korsakov, Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer; and Axiom Mission 1 astronauts (center row from left) Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Conner, and Michael Lopez-Alegria. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The integrated NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams have agreed on a plan for the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for a splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. Sunday, April 24. The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely.

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Axiom Mission 1: Dragon Endeavour Departure Postponed

The 11-person crew aboard the station comprises of (clockwise from bottom right) Expedition 67 Commander Tom Marshburn with Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, Sergey Korsakov, Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer; and Axiom Mission 1 astronauts (center row from left) Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Conner, and Michael Lopez-Alegria. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Mission Control has informed the Expedition 67 and Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crews aboard the International Space Station that because of unfavorable weather at the splashdown location for recovery of the Dragon Endeavour and the Ax-1 crew, the integrated operations team at NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX has postponed the spacecraft’s planned departure from the orbiting laboratory.

Weather permitting, the four-member private astronaut crew now is targeted to undock at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, to begin the journey home with splashdown off the coast of Florida no earlier than approximately 3:24 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 20.

NASA coverage of the farewell ceremony will remain as previously scheduled, and the updated NASA Ax-1 return coverage is as follows (all times Eastern):

Tuesday, April 19

  • 7 a.m. – Coverage begins for farewell ceremony
  • 7:45 p.m. – Coverage begins for hatch closure at approximately 8 p.m.
  • 9:45 p.m. – Coverage begins for undocking at about 10 p.m.

Teams will continue to monitor weather at the splashdown sites prior to undocking to ensure conditions are acceptable for a safe recovery of the Dragon spacecraft and Ax-1 astronauts. If needed for any reason, there are additional opportunities for the crew’s departure from the space station on Wednesday, April 20.


Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

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Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time

Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

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NASA Coverage Set for Axiom Mission 1 Departure from Space Station

The 11-person crew aboard the station comprises of (clockwise from bottom right) Expedition 67 Commander Tom Marshburn with Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, Sergey Korsakov, Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer; and Axiom Mission 1 astronauts (center row from left) Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Conner, and Michael Lopez-Alegria. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA will provide live coverage of the undocking and departure of the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) prior to its return to Earth from the International Space Station.

The four-member private astronaut crew is scheduled to undock at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, to begin the journey home with splashdown off the coast of Florida no earlier than 7:19 a.m. EDT Wednesday, April 20. Teams will monitor weather at the splashdown sites prior to undocking to ensure conditions are acceptable for a safe recovery of the Dragon spacecraft and Ax-1 astronauts. If needed for any reason, there are additional opportunities for the crew’s departure from the space station on Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20.

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NASA and SpaceX Adjust the Agency’s Crew-4 Launch Date

NASA astronauts and Crew-4 crew members Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren stand alongside ESA astronaut and Crew-4 crewmember Samantha Cristoforetti. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX now are targeting no earlier than 5:26 a.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for the launch of the agency’s Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The date adjustment provides mission teams time to complete final prelaunch processing for the Crew-4 mission following the April 8 launch of Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) to the space station.

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More Than 25 ISS National Lab-Sponsored Investigations on First All-Private Astronaut Mission to the Space Station

Launch of Axiom Mission 1 (Image Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., April 11, 2022 (CASIS PR) – On Friday, April 8, the launch of the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), marked the beginning of a new era of privatized utilization of the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lifted off from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying four Axiom Space astronauts: Commander and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft docked with the ISS on Saturday, and the four Axiom crew members were welcomed onboard. Over the span of eight days on the space station, the Ax-1 crew members will conduct dozens of research experiments, many of which are sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory. In total, the ISS National Lab is sponsoring more than 25 experiments associated with the Ax-1 mission.

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Titan Space Technologies Announces Successful Deployment of Machine Learning Models During Historic Ax-1 Mission

Space station crew welcomes the Ax-1 astronauts to the ISS. (Credit: Axiom Space)

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Titan Space Technologies PR) — Titan Space Technologies has successfully deployed and run a suite of machine learning models on the HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, an edge computing and AI system aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in support of Axiom Space’s future missions and vision of smart spacecraft architectures. Working closely with Axiom and HPE, Titan was tasked with applying its space experimentation platform to a use case based on the new demands of a modern space station. Titan’s success demonstrates the applied artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities critical for conducting space experimentation on orbital destinations and spacecraft now and in the future.

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AIAA Praises Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) Launch

Ax-1 crew prior to launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

RESTON, Va., April 8, 2022 (AIAA PR) – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Executive Director Dan Dumbacher made the following statement:

“On behalf of the 30,000 professional and student members of AIAA, we congratulate the entire Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1) team on their successful launch today. Axiom, NASA, and SpaceX have introduced a new model for commercial space exploration, expanding access to low Earth orbit that in turn increases the scientific research opportunities on the International Space Station (ISS). We applaud this first private mission to the ISS, showing how NASA and private industry are working together to extend the human neighborhood into low Earth orbit in meaningful ways.

In addition to expanding commercial research opportunities in the ISS orbiting laboratory, the AX-1 mission adds more names to the growing list of astronauts due to commercial space activity. From entrepreneurs to philanthropists, we are seeing a new breed of explorer emerge in low Earth orbit. We are encouraged to see the space economy growing, as these innovators work to improve life on Earth and accelerate our off-world future. We look forward to following their progress.

We recognize the countless aerospace industry professionals involved in making today’s launch a success. We salute Axiom, NASA, and SpaceX, and their entire team, for helping shape the future of aerospace.”

About AIAA

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit www.aiaa.org, and follow AIAA on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram.

Ax-1 Private Astronaut Mission Arrives at International Space Station

Space station crew welcomes the Ax-1 astronauts to the ISS. (Credit: Axiom Space)

HOUSTON (Axiom Space PR) — The historic Ax-1 crew has arrived at the International Space Station. Commander  Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, and Mission Specialist Mark Pathy entered the space station shortly after the hatch opened at 10:13 a.m. EDT on Saturday, April 9.   

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