Three rich businessmen returned from the International Space Station with their astronaut escort Monday, wrapping up a pricey trip that marked Nasa’s debut as a B&B host.
Flying back in a SpaceX capsule, they splashed down in the Atlantic off the Florida coast to close out a 17-day tour that cost them $55m apiece.
The trip was supposed to last a little over a week, but dicey weather kept the visitors in orbit almost twice as long as intended.
“Welcome back to planet Earth,” radioed SpaceX mission control from southern California. “We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”
“Amazing mission,” said real estate tycoon Larry Connor.
Before departing the space station Sunday night, the group thanked their seven hosts, including three Nasa astronauts whose own mission is nearing an end.
It was the first time Nasa opened its space hatches to tourists after shunning the practice perfected over the decades by Russia. Last fall, a Russian film crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion mogul and his assistant. In each case, an active-duty cosmonaut traveled with them.
The latest guests were accompanied by a former Nasa astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company in charge of the flight, making it the first fully private trip to the space station.
Axiom handled the logistics for the trip for its three paying customers: Connor from Dayton, Ohio; Canadian private equity CEO Mark Pathy; and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe. Their chaperone was Michael Lopez-Alegria, an Axiom vice- president who flew to space four times while a Nasa astronaut.
While in space, the visitors did experiments and peered back at Earth.
“It’s been eye-opening in so many ways,” Pathy said, “that I think will have such a lasting impact on my life.”
The experience was especially personal for Stibbe. He served as a fighter pilot under Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003. Stibbe flew copies of the surviving pages of Ramon’s space diary, as well as artwork and music created by Ramon’s children.
Axiom’s second flight is set for next spring as the company looks ahead to having its own space station by 2030.