By Ramin Skibba
Last night, an Axiom Space mission carrying a private crew blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, heading toward the International Space Station. The crew of four, led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, flew aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and docked with the ISS at about 9:12 a.m. Eastern time this morning. It’s the second time Axiom has ferried paying customers to the ISS. Last year’s inaugural flight was a milestone for space tourism. This time, it’s a glimpse at the future of the space station itself.
The ISS’s years are numbered. NASA has committed to supporting the station through 2030, at which point the agency wants to have the first components of a commercial successor in place. In 2021, the agency assigned contracts to a trio of companies—Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and Nanoracks—to develop competing designs. NASA awarded a separate contract to Axiom in 2020 to develop a habitable module to attach to the ISS, with up to three modules to follow. The first one is expected to launch in late 2025, and once NASA and its partners decommission and deorbit the ISS, Axiom’s modules will detach and merge with each other, becoming a standalone space station