The first fully private astronaut mission to the International Space Station is in the books.
AN spacex Dragon capsule that transported the four crew members of the Ax-1 The mission splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, today (April 25) at 1:06 pm EDT (1706 GMT), capping the groundbreaking 17-day flight.
“On behalf of the entire SpaceX team, welcome back to planet Earth,” a SpaceX mission communicator told the Ax-1 crew just after splashdown.
Live updates: Private Ax-1 mission to the space station
Related: Axiom Space: Building the economy off Earth
Ax-1 was organized by the company Houston axiom space and commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who is now Axiom’s vice president of business development. He was joined on the mission by three paying clients: American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, each of whom is believed to have paid around $55 million for his seat.
Stibbe is the second Israeli to reach space. He was a friend of the first: Ilan Ramon, who died along with his six crewmates on the space shuttle columbia disaster on February 1, 2003.
Paying customers have visited the International Space Station (ISS) before; in fact, Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa and video producer Yozo Hirano lived aboard the orbiting lab for 11 days. only this past december. But such previous flights had always been commanded by a government astronaut, that is, a cosmonaut employed by Russia’s federal space agency, Roscosmos. The Ax-1 coordinated with NASA and ISS officials, but its crew members were all private civilians.
Might as well call astronauts Ax-1 space touristsbut they would question that characterization.
Ax-1 is “like a NASA mission to the ISS, and by no means what I equate with a leisurely sightseeing adventure.” López-Alegría told Space.com during a conversation last year, citing the extensive preparation required and the scientific work crew members would be doing in orbit. “It’s much more than that”.
Ax-1 is not the first private manned orbital mission of any kind, by the way. That distinction goes to Inspiration4another SpaceX flight that spent nearly three days circling the Earth last September.
Photos: The first space tourists
a lot of scientific work
Ax-1 took off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on april 8 and docked with the ISS a day later.
While living in the orbiting laboratory, the private astronauts conducted over 25 science experiments in a variety of fields, from human health and medicine to Earth observation and the physical sciences.
For example, Connor investigated the relationship between heart health and senescent cells (cells that have stopped dividing). And the researchers will study magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of him taken before and after the flight, to gain a better understanding of how space missions affect brain and spinal tissue. Connor is working on these projects with the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, contributing to lines of research that he helped fund over the past decade.
Among Pathy’s projects was Earth observation work designed to shed light on the impacts of climate change and urbanization, as well as research on sleep disorders and chronic pain for the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Stibbe worked with the Ramón Foundation, a nonprofit organization named after his friend, and the Israel Space Agency on a variety of investigations.
“The experiments are groundbreaking and groundbreaking, coming from diverse disciplines: astrophysics, agriculture, optics, communication, biology, healthcare, neurology, and ophthalmology, and were chosen based on their potential impact on research and innovative approach,” Inbal Kreiss, chairman of the science and technology committee and head of space group and missile systems innovation at Israel Aerospace Industries, the nation’s state-owned aerospace company, said in a Statement from Axiom Space at the end of last year.
The Ax-1 crew members ended up having much more time to perform these experiments than they initially thought. The mission was supposed to leave the ISS on April 19 and return to Earth a day later, but bad weather broke out at the splashdown zone off the Florida coast and persisted. delaying the departure of the dragon until Sunday night (April 24).
And, in case you were wondering: Axiom Space didn’t have to pay for the extra five days aboard the orbiting lab.
The contract Axiom signed with NASA “includes an equitable balance to cover Ax-1 for a sufficient number of contingency days,” NASA public affairs officer Gary Jordan told Space.com by email.
“Knowing that the mission objectives of the International Space Station such as the recently conducted russian spacewalk or weather challenges could result in delayed undocking, NASA negotiated the contract with a strategy that does not require reimbursement for additional undocking delays.”
However, the delay affected another astronaut mission: SpaceX’s. Crew-4, which will send three NASA astronauts and one European Space Agency astronaut to the ISS for an extended stay. Crew-4 was supposed to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida over the weekend, but that liftoff will now happen no earlier than Wednesday (April 27); NASA officials have said they want about two days between Ax-1’s splashdown and Crew-4’s launch to allow for data analysis and other preparations.
just the beginning
Ax-1 will be just the beginning of Axiom Space, if all goes according to plan. The company has booked several additional missions to the orbiting laboratory, which will be flown by SpaceX.
The next, Ax-2, is scheduled to launch later this year and will be commanded by a former NASA astronaut. Peggy Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other American. Like López-Alegría, she now works for Axiom and serves as the company’s director of human spaceflight.
But Axiom has even bigger plans. Starting in late 2024, the company intends to launch a number of modules to the ISS. These connected modules will eventually separate and fly freely, becoming the first private space station in Earth orbit. Axiom believes there will be a huge demand for this outpost and that it could end up powering a manufacturing economy off Earth.
“On the ISS, a company could only run one experiment; even if the experiment was successful, there was nowhere that company could go to make the product at scale,” said Axiom Space CTO Matt Ondler. he told Space.com late last year. “A commercial space station like Axiom’s will provide that opportunity, and so I think we’ll see all sorts of ideas and products that we can’t imagine today.”
Mike Wall is the author of “out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom or in Facebook.