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Space Tourist or Astronaut? Upcoming First Commercial Spaceflight Revives Age-old Debate

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is photographed during a spacewalk to install solar array modification kits on the ISS on Sunday, February 28. Photo: NASA

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is photographed during a spacewalk to install solar array modification kits on the ISS on Sunday, February 28. Photo: NASA

Now, when we have entered an era when anyone with enough money and luck can go on a trip to space, the age-old debate of ‘who is an astronaut’ has revived.

Axiom Space, the company behind the first private space trip, will soon start training its private astronauts, who bought a ticket to the international space station for $55 million — about Rs 400 crore. The company has sold tickets to three businessmen - Eytan Stibbe, Larry Connor and Mark Pathy - for its first mission Ax-1, which will be operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and launch in January 2022. Axiom Space has also announced another private space flight that will take place “when NASA announces the next private astronaut mission opportunity,” the company said in a news release.

Now, when we have entered an era when anyone with enough money and luck can go on a trip to space without following the hard and long path to NASA, the age-old debate of ‘who is an astronaut’ has revived. Founded by Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin, another company offering tickets to space is already calling its future clients ‘astronauts.’

Bill Nelson, whom the United States President Joe Biden appointed as the head of NASA two months ago, does not think he should be called an astronaut even when he has been to space.“I reserve that term for my professional colleagues,” Nelson told the Associated Press in an interview. Explaining what he would like to be called when asked, Nelson preferred to be called a member of Robert L. Gibson’s crew. Gibson was the commander of the mission that took Nelson to space and spent six days on the ISS.

“If you go to space, you’re an astronaut," says former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria while talking to AP. Axiom has appointed Lopez-Alegria as a commander of Ax-1 to accompany its clients. According to the Spanish-American astronaut, his clients do not think of themselves as space tourists and they will do research up there.

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Interestingly, NASA took the word astronaut from science fiction after mulling over words like ‘spaceman,’ ‘superman’ and ‘space pilot,’ when it was brainstorming about what to call the people the space agency was sending to space.

Keywords:

First Private Space Flight, Ax-1, Axiom Space, Elon Musk, SpaceX, NASA, Jeff Bezos, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, who is an astronaut, Bill Nelson, Robert Gibson

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