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Searching for a future destination to rest your weary head after a long day of orbital stargazing? Look no further than that gleaming silver flake streaking across the night sky, as the International Space Station is making plans to upgrade its accommodations by installing a privately owned, multi-use module to host a variety of off-Earth scientists, astronauts, and private-sector tourists starting in 2024.
This week, NASA chose Houston-based Axiom Space as the grand prize winner of their NextSTEP-2 Appendix I program, which hoped to find a suitable applicant to grant access to the International Space Station's Node 2 Forward Port for their first commercial space station and research platform that might be utilized as an ISS replacement when it's eventually decommissioned.
“NASA has once again recognized the hard work, talent, and experience of Houstonians as we expand the International Space Station and promote commercial opportunities in space,” Texas senator John Cornyn said in a NASA statement. “I’m proud Axiom will continue to build upon Texas’ legacy of leading the nation in human space exploration.”
Axiom intends on launching a special module, research and manufacturing facility, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory to represent the "Axiom Segment" of the ISS. Their ambitious new commercial platform, with opportunities for a variety of potential benefits including a space hotel for the ultra-rich, will substantially increase the amount of usable and habitable square feet on the crowded ISS.
Space visionary Dr. Kam Ghaffarian and former NASA ISS Program Manager Michael Suffredini founded Axiom back in 2016 with the dream of ushering in a new era of human civilization in Earth orbit. The pioneering corporation is a dream team of aerospace expertise that includes the engaging minds of Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines, and Maxar Technologies.
"We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in Low Earth Orbit," Suffredini said in a corporate statement. "This selection is a recognition of the uniquely qualified nature of the Axiom team and our commercial plan to create and support a thriving, sustainable, and American-led LEO ecosystem."
Besides constructing and launching the Axiom Segment, Axiom will head up crewed missions to the ISS and, further down the road, to dock with the ISS/Axiom complex at a proposed schedule of 2-3 flights per year. Prior to the ISS's retirement, Axiom will then deliver a massive power platform to provide the Axiom Segment with sustainable juice and cooling that its mothership had been providing. When it comes time for the ISS to be decommissioned, the Axiom Segment will break off and continue on its own as a free-flying, internationally available commercial launch destination open to anyone with the cash.
The Philippe Starck-designed crew accommodations were conceived with comfort and luxury in mind, with private crew berths providing a cozy, nest-like cabin, unobstructed views of Mother Earth, and high-bandwidth communications to phone home or check Facebook posts if you get lonely.
"Axiom exists to provide the infrastructure in space for a variety of users to conduct research, discover new technologies, test systems for exploration of the Moon and Mars, manufacture superior products for use in orbit and on the ground, and ultimately improve life back on Earth," Suffredini added. "As we build on the legacy and foundation established by the ISS Program, we look forward to working with NASA and the ecosystem of current and future international partners on this seminal effort."
What do you think of Axiom's new plug-in space pod, and would you consider booking a room aboard their new addition to the ISS if they left the lights on?