Rich people are heading to space, and they’re changing what it means to be an astronaut.
In a strip mall just off Houston’s NASA Parkway is a restaurant called Frenchie’s Italian Cuisine. You wouldn’t know it from the unassuming beige storefront, but inside, Frenchie’s looks like a museum. The walls are covered in framed pictures of smiling astronauts, in their blue jumpsuits and puffy spacesuits, holding up bubble helmets and model spaceships. Frenchie’s has been a popular spot with NASA employees at Johnson Space Center, a few minutes away, since it opened in 1979. Over the years, astronauts have dropped in before a flight to chat with Frankie Camera, the owner, and returned with autographed mementos.
Camera, now in his 70s, still runs Frenchie’s, but American spaceflight is changing fast. In the next decade, the restaurant’s walls could display the stories of a new kind of astronaut. Soon rich businessmen with $55 million to spare could become astronauts. So could the founder of a company that processes credit-card payments, and a physician’s assistant who works with cancer patients. Jeff Bezos could count as an astronaut too.