After months of training, the four crew members of the first fully private mission to the International Space Station have lifted off, aboard a SpaceX rocket. The launch took place this Friday, April 8 at 3:17 p.m. GMT, from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The mission, named Ax-1, is to last ten days, eight of which will be on board the Station. The crew is made up of three American, Canadian and Israeli businessmen, having paid several tens of millions of dollars each. They are Larry Connor, head of a real estate company, Mark Pathy, boss of an investment company, and ex-pilot Eytan Stibbe, co-founder of an investment fund. .
The takeoff of the Ax-1 private flight to#ISS (capsule Crew Dragon from #SpaceX) is postponed to April 8 at 5:17 p.m. Metropolitan France at the earliest. Passengers: Mark Pathy, Larry Connor, Michael López-Alegría and Eytan Stibbe. pic.twitter.com/K8IDKj8pJa
— City of space (@CiteEspace) April 4, 2022
They are accompanied by astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA employee who became an employee of Axiom Space, the American company organizing the trip. “We are not space tourists,” he argued at a press conference given in February. “It’s really not a vacation.”
Falcon 9 and Dragon vertical at 39A; targeting Friday, April 8 for launch of Ax-1 → https://t.co/sIz9U6NRxT pic.twitter.com/NSJqo3FBb4
—SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 6, 2022
“They don’t go up there to stick their noses out the window. They go there to conduct important research,” added Michael Suffredini, boss of Axiom Space. The latter today was pleased to see six years of work with NASA and SpaceX come to an end. “To say we are happy is an understatement,” he said.
25 on-site experiences
The neo-astronauts will have to carry out some 25 scientific experiments in collaboration with research centers on Earth. For example on stem cells, heart health or on the autonomous assembly of a vessel in weightlessness. They will also take the opportunity to bring NASA experiments back to Earth, as the ISS laboratory is currently a bit crowded.
The crew, which trained with the US space agency in Houston and SpaceX in California, will operate aboard the US segment of the Station. The Dragon capsule is due to dock with the ISS on Saturday around 07:45 (11:45 GMT).
Axiom Space has reached an agreement for a total of four missions with SpaceX. NASA, which charges for the stay, has already formally approved the principle of a second, Ax-2.
Soon a new space station
For Axiom Space, this is a first step towards an ambitious goal: the construction of its own space station. “These missions give us a chance to rehearse on a smaller scale,” explained Michael Suffredini.
The first module of this private station should be launched in September 2024. The structure will first be attached to the ISS, before becoming autonomous when the latter is retired, a priori in 2030.
This movement to privatize low orbit is encouraged by NASA, which no longer wishes to have to manage the operation of a station, but rather to hire the services of private structures, in order to concentrate on distant exploration.