To ensure continuous U.S. presence aboard the International Space Station, NASA has signed a contract with a U.S. commercial company Axiom Space of Houston to fly a NASA astronaut on an upcoming Soyuz rotation on Soyuz MS-18, scheduled to launch April 9.  In exchange, NASA will provide a seat on a future U.S.  commercial spacecraft, expected to launch in 2023, as part of a space station crew rotation mission. The “seat” on each flight includes transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.

Because the services are determined to be of comparable value to both parties, the contract contains no exchange of funds.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will launch aboard the Soyuz for a full expedition aboard the International Space Station. NASA will continue to work with Axiom to fly a non-NASA astronaut Axiom designates on a U.S. commercial spacecraft.

NASA has been working with Boeing and SpaceX to provide safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station. The recent success of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission and the launch, docking, and in-orbit operations of the Crew-1 mission have been significant milestones in providing reliable transportation to the space station on American commercial spacecraft launching from American soil. The upcoming SpaceX Crew-2 mission, as well as the second uncrewed flight test for Boeing’s Starliner, demonstrate continued progress.

NASA is continuing its practice of flying integrated crews to ensure safe and continuous operations on the space station. Securing this additional Soyuz seat assures at least one U.S. crew member will be aboard the International Space Station at all times to maintain safe operations of the orbiting laboratory. Flying integrated crews assures the back-up capability in the event of a problem with any crew spacecraft or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew to return to Earth sooner than planned.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission has welcomed Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the International Space Station, and NASA is preparing to fly two American astronauts as well as a JAXA and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut on Crew-2. 

The crew currently aboard the station (Kate Rubins and the Crew-1 astronauts) must return on Soyuz and Crew Dragon respectively in April/May. SpaceX Crew-2 is expected to launch as planned April 22. Vande Hei’s flight on the Russian Soyuz will ensure continuous presence on the station if the Crew-2 mission launch is delayed or an event occurs while Crew-2 is in-orbit that requires a premature return.