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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77 Launches Conducted During First Half of 2022 as Access to Orbit Expanded

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites while the Dragon that will carry Crew-4 to the International space Station awaits its turn. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a busy first half of 2022 that saw 77 orbital launches with 74 successes and three failures through the 182nd day of the year on July 1. At a rate of one launch every 2 days 8 hours 44 minutes, the world is on track to exceed the 146 launches conducted in 2021.

A number of significant missions were launched during a period that saw more than 1,000 satellite launched. SpaceX flew the first fully commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing conducted an orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, China prepared to complete assembly of its space station, South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured rocket, and Rocket Lab sent a NASA mission to the moon.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

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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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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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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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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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Axiom Space Launches NFT Marketplace during Historic Ax-1 Mission to ISS

Michael Kagan, known for his paintings and sculptures of iconic images of space exploration, has created exclusive pieces to commemorate the Ax-1 mission, including an augmented reality 3D spacewalker. (Credit: 5W Public Relations)

HOUSTON, April 8, 2022 (Axiom Space PR) – Axiom Space, a leader in human spaceflight, now building the first commercial space station, announced today the debut of its NFT marketplace ahead of its historic Ax-1 mission to the International Space Station. During the mission, Axiom will initiate the minting of several NFTs from space. Starting today, space fans of all kinds can purchase the first NFT and receive updates ahead of the upcoming drops. 

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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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Ax-1 Mission Launches Successfully; 4 Private Astronauts En Route to Space Station

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Axiom Space PR) — Axiom Space’s Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), the world’s first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), launched Friday. The four-person multi-national crew of Ax-1 is now in orbit following an 11:17 a.m. EDT liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  

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NASA’s First Practice Countdown of Space Launch System Ends with Glass (and Tank) Half Filled

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022, as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

by David Bullock and Douglas Messier

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA ended its first attempt to conduct a wet dress rehearsal for the maiden flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft to the moon on Tuesday after four days of wrestling with a series of technical challenges and weather delays.

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Coverage Set for Axiom Mission 1 Briefings, Events, Broadcast

Ax-1 crew members (Credit: Axiom Space)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and Axiom Space will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website will provide coverage for docking and undocking operations and some prelaunch and launch activities.

Liftoff is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 6, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew will travel to the orbiting outpost aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft after launching on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

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