Ax-1, First Private Crewed Space Station Mission, successfully launches news and research

A groundbreaking astronaut mission is on its way to the International Space Station.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fired Ax-1, a mission from the Houston-based company Axiom Space, today (April 8) at 11:17 EDT (1517 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here on the Florida coast.

None of Ax-1’s four crew members are state space pilots. It is the first completely private crew mission ever to launch to the revolving lab.

“Together, a new chapter begins,” said Jon Rackham of Axiom Space during a webcast of the launch today. “Godspeed, Ax-1!”

With the perfect lift, the crew officially began a 10-day journey that will include eight days aboard the International Space Station. Ax-1’s SpaceX Dragon capsule is set to dock with the orbiting lab around 07:45 EDT (1145 GMT) tomorrow (April 9).

Ax-1 marked the fifth flight for this Falcon 9’s first leg. And the booster made his fifth landing as well, coming down for an accurate touchdown 9.5 minutes after taking off on the SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic.

“It’s been a year and a half or so of very hard work since we designed the mission, mainly from scratch, and doing something that has never been done before in exactly this way,” Derek Hassmann, chief operating officer of Axiom Space, said during a press conference before the launch yesterday (April 7). “It’s very rewarding.”

Ax-1 is led by retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who is now Vice President of Business Development for Axiom. He launched today together with the mission pilot Larry Connor and the mission specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.

Connor is a real estate contractor and pilot who is familiar with 16 different aircraft; Pathy is the CEO and Chairman of the Canadian Sustainable Investment Company MARVIK; and Stibbe is the founder of the investment fund Vital Capital Impact.

Stibbe was also a fighter pilot with the Israel Air Force (IAF) and will be the second Israeli person ever to reach space. The first, Ilan Ramon, was an astronaut who died during the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003. In Ramon’s memory, Stibbe and the Ramon family founded the non-profit Ramon Foundation.

Commander López-Alegría did not pay for his seat on board the mission and will help guide the other crew members through the voyage. Each of the other three crew members is believed to have spent approximately $ 55 million on their site.

Nevertheless, López-Alegría and other members of the mission have emphasized that the three paying customers are not “space tourists”.

Ax-1 “is all too often called space tourism,” López-Alegría told Space.com during a conversation last year. “I would say it is not tourism at all.”

“This is real work that requires a lot of preparation, and I do not think it will be relaxing,” he added.

Other mission team members have echoed this sentiment.

“The crew is very well trained; they have spent hundreds of hours preparing for this flight,” said record-breaking former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, now Axiom Space’s director of human spaceflight, in a pre-flight news on 1 April. conference.

The crew has a number of tasks planned for the mission, such as conducting 25 different scientific experiments. Among these experiments is a “brain headset” from the Israeli startup Brain.Space that Stibbe carries with him. This experiment aims to observe how the brain behaves in space and is one of many studies that Stibbe conducts on behalf of the Ramon Foundation.

The Ax-1 crew’s experiments will study other topics as well, including aging, stem cells, heart health and more, Hassmann shared yesterday.

“This really represents the first step, where a bunch of individuals who want to do something meaningful in low Earth orbit who are not members of a government can take this opportunity,” said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, during a news conference on April 1. .

Ax-1 is not only the first crew for Axiom, or the first completely private mission to the space station. For Axiom Space, it is the first major step towards realizing its own low-orbit (LEO) commercial space station, which will also be the first of its kind.

“The company was formed to build the next commercial space station,” Hassmann said during yesterday’s briefing. He added that Ax-1 is a pioneer in building that station.

Axiom plans to “launch the first module of the commercial space station by the end of 2024. It will be connected to the ISS and will gradually expand that space station between that period for 2024 to 2030 with the aim of eventually separating and providing the commercial LEO optional destination when the ISS has retired, Hassman said.

“So this pioneering mission is the first of several that will lead to the launch of the 2024 module,” he added.

Ax-1 may be the first completely private mission to the ISS, but it is not the first civilian journey into orbit. That award goes to Inspiration4, a three-day mission for four people that SpaceX launched in September 2021.

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