Three rookie astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission for NASA just launched to space for the first time. They’ve tipped the number of people to have gone to space to over 600, according to a tally maintained by NASA.
Matthias Maurer, Crew-3’s mission specialist and a German astronaut representing the European Space Agency, will officially be considered the 600th person in space. The superlative was determined by the crew’s order of mission specialist designations: Raja Chari, a NASA astronaut and Crew-3’s commander, will be No. 599; Mr. Maurer has the designation of mission specialist 1, and Kayla Barron, another NASA astronaut, has been designated mission specialist 2.
“I actually offered the place to Kayla,” Mr. Maurer said during a news conference, “because I think she and I will be together, like number 600.”
“I was the lucky one that got the round number, but, OK, we will all have fun in space,” he quipped.
The tally began in 1961, when Yuri Gagarin, a Russian astronaut, became the first human to orbit the Earth. Less than a month later, Alan Shepard became the second person, and the first U.S. astronaut, to go to space.
The number of people to travel to space in recent years has increased, and the pace is expected to only accelerate as a market for private spaceflight missions with wealthy tourists takes shape. The tally includes brief suborbital flights, such as the Blue Origin launch in July that carried Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and its former chief executive, to the edge of space with three other passengers.
Between Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and perhaps even balloons that travel to suborbital altitudes, the number of options for wealthy people to travel to space are increasing. China’s Tiangong space station, which is under construction in orbit and is expected to be finished in 2022, may open orbit up to even more astronauts.