1st private space crew paying $55M each to fly to station

This combination of photos provided by Axiom Space in January 2021 shows, from left, Larry Connor, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, Axiom announced they will be the first private space station crew, a year ahead of the planned launch. (Courtesy Axiom Space via AP)
This combination of photos provided by Axiom Space in January 2021 shows, from left, Larry Connor, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, Axiom announced they will be the first private space station crew, a year ahead of the planned launch. (Courtesy Axiom Space via AP) (ANTHONY RATHBUN PHOTOGRAPHY)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The first private space station crew was introduced Tuesday: Three men who are each paying $55 million to fly on a SpaceX rocket.

They'll be led by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the trip for next January.

“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station. It’s never been done before," said Axiom's chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA.

While mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity," Suffredini told The Associated Press.

The first crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

Russia has been in the off-the-planet tourism business for years, selling rides to the International Space Station since 2001. Other space companies like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin plan to take paying customers on up-and-down flights lasting just minutes. These trips — much more affordable with seats going for hundreds of thousands versus millions — could kick off this year.

Axiom's first customers include Larry Connor, a real estate and tech entrepreneur from Dayton, Ohio, Canadian financier Mark Pathy and Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, a close friend of Israel's first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the space shuttle Columbia accident in 2003.

“These guys are all very involved and doing it for kind of for the betterment of their communities and countries, and so we couldn’t be happier with this makeup of the first crew because of their drive and their interest," Suffredini said.