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SpaceX launched three businessmen into orbit on Friday on the first fully private mission to the International Space Station.
Accompanied by their escort of astronauts, the men will spend more than a week in space as Nasa joins Russia in welcoming guests to the most expensive tourist destination in the world.
Friday’s launch marks SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of ferrying astronauts there for NASA.
An American, a Canadian and an Israeli will arrive at the space station on Saturday after paying $55m (£42m) each for the rocket flight and accommodation, all meals included.
The flight, organized by Houston-based company Axiom Space, took off at 11:17 a.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“That was one hell of a ride,” crew member Michael López-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut who is now vice president of business development for Axiom Space, told mission controllers over the radio after he reaches orbit.
Visitor tickets include access to everything but the Russian part of the space station, and three Americans and a German also live there.
Russia has been welcoming tourists to the space station for decades, and before that to the Mir station.
Last fall, a Russian film crew flew in, followed by a Japanese fashion mogul and his assistant.
Now, after years of opposing visitors to the space station, NASA is finally getting on board.
Mr Lopez-Alegria said he planned to avoid talking about politics and the Russian-Ukrainian war while on the space station.
He said: “I honestly think it won’t be a problem. I mean maybe a little bit”,
But he added that he expects “the collaborative spirit to shine through”.
The three paying customers are: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Mavrik Corp of Montreal; and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.
Mr Stibbe expressed his pre-launch excitement, doing a little dance when he arrived at the rocket at Kennedy Space Center.
Businessmen are the last to profit from the opening of space to those who can afford it.
Blue Origin, the rocket company of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, takes customers on 10-minute rides to the far reaches of space, while Virgin Galactic plans to start flying customers on its rocket later this year.
Mr Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months on the space station 15 years ago, said SpaceX and NASA had been candid with passengers about the risks of spaceflight.
“There’s no blurring, I think, of what the dangers are or what bad days might look like,” he told The Associated Press before the flight.
Every visitor has a full state of experiences to go through during their stay – which is part of why they don’t like being called a space tourist.
“They’re not here to stick their noses out the window,” said Axiom co-founder and president Michael Suffredini.
Friday’s launch is the second private charter for SpaceX from Elon Musk, who took a billionaire and his guests into a three-day orbit last year.
Axiom is targeting next year for its second private flight to the space station. More customer travel will follow, with Axiom adding its own rooms to the orbiting resort from 2024.
The SpaceX automated capsule is due to return with all four on April 19.
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