Space tourism is about to take a big step forward. That’s saying a lot considering that it isn’t really an industry yet. Nonetheless, the ultra-wealthy will soon have a chance to spend the night in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA has just announced that Houston-based startup Axiom Space will build the first commercial module for the station. It will serve as a space hotel that will give tourists a place to “lay” their heads at night. Despite not being built yet, Axiom has already booked its first guest’s visit.
Axiom was first founded in 2016 by a co-manager of the ISS program, Michael Suffredini. His startup now has the privilege of building the first commercial module for the station. As of now, Axiom has kept the details of its plans under tight wraps.
Nonetheless, it is known that the partnership is intended to create “a node module, a crew habitat, and a research and manufacturing module.” The startup also intends to add a large observation window to the station.
Axiom’s website says, “Astronauts return from space changed, with a renewed perspective on humanity that remains with them for the rest of their lives.”
This is something that both NASA and Axiom hope civilians will be able to experience thanks to the project.
Last year, Suffredini discussed the future of space tourism with The New York Times. He says, “There will be WiFi, everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window… The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn’t really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping… pretty soon we’re going to be flying a butler with every crew.”
The path towards a commercialized International Space Station has been open for some time. Believe it or not, the orbiting lab is aging. The modules that have served hundreds of astronauts over the years aren’t as pristine as they used to be. Yet, both NASA and many private companies have an interest in keeping the ISS in orbit.
The station is essential for a wide variety of research projects that study everything from fire to wine. Yet, it appears that NASA is ready to depart from the government-run model that the station is currently based on. It is now looking to “foster the growth of a robust low-Earth orbit economy.”
Partnering with Axiom is just the first step. The agency has been working on a plan that will allow private companies to submit applications to build their own modules. These could be for research, tourism, or even commerce.
Meanwhile, Axiom has even larger plans. It eventually intends to separate its module from the ISS when the lab reaches the end of its life. The startup will use it as the first piece of its very own “Axiom Station.”
Thanks to Axiom’s new partnership with NASA, Suffredini is one step closer to bringing his vision of space tourism into reality. It will be interesting to see how the startup’s plans unfold as time goes on. As of now, there is no specific project completion date for the new module.