ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Houston-based Axiom Space is negotiating final details of a contract with NASA to fly a private citizen to the International Space Station in 2021.
The company's CEO, Michael Suffredini, said the mission is fully funded, and not by governments.
"We're just about done with our contract with NASA, so we expect that to be complete here in the next two to three weeks," Suffredini said last week during an online panel discussion sponsored by International Astronautical Congress.
"We're cautiously optimistic that by the end of October we will have everything in place to put forward for a launch in 2021," he said.
The company has declined to provide more details, but NASA officials have said a private citizen is expected at the space station in the fall. Axiom has confirmed the pilot for the mission will be retired astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who works for the company.
The company advertises flights to space station for $55 million to $60 million to spend 10 days in microgravity at an altitude of over 250 miles. Passengers must spend 15 weeks in training after a physical, according to the mission description.
NASA has announced that actor Tom Cruise will be shooting a movie aboard the space station, but neither Axiom, NASA nor Cruise's publicists have confirmed a time for the mission or provided any details.
Axiom also is working on a private space station module, which it intends to launch in 2024, said Suffredini, who formerly served as NASA's space station program manager for 10 years. That module will be expanded until it can be detached as its own space station.
"The vastness of the microgravity environment provides a huge opportunity for us to do research ... and to allow our species to be able to make a step off of our own planet and be able to live in other parts of the universe," Suffredini said.
NASA plans a lunar base by 2028, which also is the year that the space agency says the International Space Station will become nearly obsolete due to aging infrastructure. But a lunar mission will make a space station in low-Earth orbit even more necessary, Suffredini and others in the panel discussion said.
"Just imagine if you fly to the moon for a longer period which is the plan, hopefully, you need to have a lot of equipment and you need to have infrastructure, and the best place to build that and develop new technology is in low-Earth orbit," said Andreas Hammer, senior vice president of space exploration for Airbus Defense and Space, based in Germany.
Hammer's company has built a commercial facility for space experiments that is attached to the space station and called the Bartolomeo platform.
The space station has hosted private citizens before, but not in recent years as crewed flights were limited after the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Businessman Charles Simonyi last visited in 2007 and 2009.