A groundbreaking astronaut mission is en route to the International Space Station.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Ax-1, a mission from Houston-based company Axiom Space, today (April 8) at 11:17 a.m. EDT (1517 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here on Florida’s Space Coast.
None of the four crew members of the Ax-1 are government space fliers. It is the first-ever fully privately manned mission to be launched into orbit at the laboratory.
“A new chapter begins together,” Axiom Space’s Jon Rackham said during a webcast of the launch today. “Thank God, Ax-1!”
With the perfect launch, the crew officially embarked on a 10-day journey, including eight days aboard the International Space Station. Ax-1’s SpaceX Dragon capsule will dock at the orbiting lab tomorrow (April 9) at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT).
Ax-1 marked the fifth flight for the first stage of this Falcon 9. And the booster also made its fifth landing, landing 9.5 minutes after launch on the SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. , down for a precise touchdown.
“It’s been about a year and a half since we designed the mission, essentially from scratch, and did something that’s never been done in exactly this way before,” Axiom Space director of operations Derek Hassmann said yesterday. (April 7) during a pre-launch press conference. “It’s well worth it.”
Ax-1 is commanded by retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who is now vice president of business development for Axiom. He launched today with mission pilot Larry Connor and mission specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.
Connor is a real estate entrepreneur and pilot who is familiar with 16 different planes; Pathy is the CEO and chairman of Canadian sustainable investment firm MARVIK; and Stibbe is the founding partner of the investment fund Vital Capital Impact.
Stibbe was also a fighter pilot with the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and will be the second Israeli person to ever reach space. The first, Ilan Ramon, was an astronaut who died in the tragedy of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. In memory of Ramon, Stibbe and the Ramon family co-founded the nonprofit Ramon Foundation.
Commander López-Alegría has not paid for his place on board the mission and will assist the other crew members during the journey. Each of the three other crew members is said to have spent about $55 million on his seat.
Still, López-Alegría and other members of the mission team have emphasized that the three paying customers are not “space tourists.”
Ax-1 “is too often referred to as space tourism,” López-Alegría told Space.com during a conversation last year. “I’d say it’s not tourism at all.”
“This is real work that requires a lot of preparation, and I don’t think it will be relaxing,” he added.
Other members of the mission team have echoed this sentiment.
“The crew is very well trained; they have spent many hundreds of hours preparing for this flight,” record-breaking former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is now Axiom Space’s director of human spaceflight, said during a preflight news release. from April 1. conference.
The crew has a number of tasks planned for the mission, such as conducting 25 different science experiments. One of these experiments is a “brain headset” from the Israeli startup Brain.Space that Stibbe is carrying. This experiment is intended to observe how the brain behaves in space and is one of many studies that Stibbe is conducting on behalf of the Ramon Foundation.
The Ax-1 crew’s experiments will also study other topics, including aging, stem cells, heart health and more, Hassmann shared yesterday.
“This is really the first step where a bunch of individuals who want to do something meaningful in low Earth orbit and who are not members of any government can seize this opportunity,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said during the press conference on April 1.
Ax-1 is not just the first manned launch for Axiom, or the first fully private manned mission to the space station. For Axiom Space, it is the first major step towards realizing its own commercial space station in low Earth orbit (LEO), which will also be the first of its kind.
“The company was founded to build the next commercial space station,” Hassmann said during yesterday’s briefing. He added that Ax-1 is a precursor to the mission to build that station.
Axiom plans to “launch that first module of that commercial space station at the end of 2024. It will be connected to the ISS and will gradually expand that space station between that period from 2024 to 2030 with the goal of eventually separating and launching the commercial LEO.” deliver destination of choice once ISS is retired,” Hassman said.
“So this precursor mission is the first of several that will lead to the launch of the module in 2024,” he added.
Ax-1 may be the first fully privately manned mission to the ISS, but it’s not the first fully civilian trip to Earth orbit. That award goes to Inspiration4, a three-day, four-person mission that SpaceX launched in September 2021.
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