— The crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission will include the second oldest person to launch into space, the second Israeli in space, the 11th Canadian to fly into space and the first former NASA astronaut to return to the International Space Station, the company behind the flight has announced.
Axiom Space on Tuesday (Jan. 26) revealed its clients for its first privately-funded and operated mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) flight is being arranged under a commercial agreement with NASA.
Slated to launch on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft are: Larry Connor, an American real estate and technology entrepreneur; Eytan Stibbe, a businessman and former Israeli fighter pilot; Mark Pathy, a Canadian investor and philanthropist; and Michael Lopez-Alegria, a retired NASA astronaut who logged almost 260 days on four prior missions.
Lopez-Alegria, who retired from NASA in 2012 and is now a vice president at Axiom, will command the 10-day Ax-1 mission. Connor, who has flown more than 16 different aircraft and competed in the U.S. National Aerobatic Championship, will serve as the Dragon’s pilot — the first private astronaut to pilot an orbital space mission. SpaceX designed its crewed Dragon capsule to fly autonomously, with human input only necessary in emergency situations.
Depending on other activities scheduled at the space station, the Ax-1 mission could launch as soon as January 2022. Axiom had earlier released that Lopez-Alegria would fly as Ax-1 commander in September 2020. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced that Stibbe would join the mission two months later in November.
Tuesday’s reveal, aired live on ABC’s Good Morning America, was the first time that Connor and Pathy were named to the Ax-1 mission.
At 71 years old, Connor will become the second oldest person to fly into space (only surpassed by the late John Glenn, who made his second spaceflight at the age of 77). Head of The Connor Group, a luxury apartment investment firm with over $3 billion in assets, Connor also co-founded two financial technology companies and established The Connor Group Kids & Community Partners, which serves disadvantaged youth in communities where The Connor Group operates.
In addition to flying, Connor also competes in off-road racing, has rafted the Zambezi River in Africa and Futaleufu River in South America and has summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Rainier in Washington State.
Pathy, 50, will be the 11th Canadian to fly into space, after nine Canadian Space Agency astronauts and the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, who became Canada’s first so-called “space tourist” in 2009.
Pathy is the CEO and chairman of Mavrik, a privately-owned investment and financing company, and is the chairman of the board of the Stingray Group, a music, media and technology company, both based in Montreal. He also serves on the board of the Pathy Family Foundation and is a member of the boards and executive committees of both Dans la Rue and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Stibbe, who was born in Haifa, will be the second Israeli to launch into space, following his friend Ilan Ramon, who tragically died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. “Eytan Stibbe will fly with the blue and white flag [on] his uniform, reminding us that the sky is no longer the limit!” Rivlin said last year. “Thanks to the Ramon Foundation for supporting the initiative.”
Stibbe founded the Vital Capital Fund, which is focused on business and financing ventures primarily in Africa. He is also one of the founders and is a board member of the Center for African Studies at Ben-Gurion University and is a board member of several non-governmental organizations dedicated to education, art and culture. At age 63, Stibbe will become the third oldest person to enter orbit.
Lopez-Alegria will be the first former NASA astronaut to return to orbit and visit the ISS. He will also be 63 when he launches, but is five months younger than Stibbe.
“I’m just so grateful for this opportunity,” Lopez-Alegria told collectSPACE in his first interview after being chosen to command Ax-1. “This seems like a gift from God and I just want to appreciate it.”
Axiom Space, founded by NASA’s former space station program manager Michael Suffredini, will arrange for the training and oversee in-flight operations for the Ax-1 crew, with Lopez-Alegria serving as the company’s representative while in space. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will train as Lopez-Alegria’s backup. (John Shoffner, a U.S.-based entrepreneur, air show pilot and race car driver, will backup Connor.)
The Ax-1 mission is the first in a series of flights to the space station, including one possibly crewed by actor Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman, which are precursors to Axiom launching and attaching new commercial modules to the ISS. The Axiom Segment will serve as a testbed for the company’s planned free-flying Axiom Station.
Ax-1 will be the first entirely-private crewed mission in Earth orbit. Between 2001 and 2009, seven private astronauts (spaceflight participants or so-called “space tourists”) launched on eight self-funded trips to the ISS. Their flights, organized by the U.S. space tourism company Space Adventures, were on Russian Soyuz spacecraft crewed by professional cosmonauts and NASA astronauts (including Lopez-Alegria).
An April 2000 Russian mission, Soyuz TM-30 — the last to dock with the former space station Mir — was funded by the company MirCorp, but was crewed by two career Russian cosmonauts.