Dubbed Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), the astronauts blasted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:17am EDT, Friday, 8 April, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The astronauts were carried in a SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, and after a 21-hour journey in orbit, they arrived at the ISS at 8:29am EDT on Saturday, 9 April.
Houston-based Axiom Space was chosen in May last year to deliver the first private mission to the ISS, focused on returning critical data about human research, physical sciences, technology demonstrations and microgravity research in their time on the station.
“What a historic launch! Thank you to the dedicated teams at NASA who have worked tirelessly to make this mission a reality,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.
“NASA’s partnership with industry through the commercial cargo and crew programs has led our nation to this new era in human spaceflight – one with limitless potential.”
Astronauts on board include former NASA astronaut and station commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is the Ax-1 crew commander, and visitors Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.
While other “tourists” have visited the ISS, such as the Inspiration4 crew last September, this launch is the first of its kind, marking the beginning of Axiom’s commercial spaceflight mission.
However, mission commander López-Alegría has disputed the labels of the crew as “space tourists”, as they underwent strenuous training and preparation before launching, according to Space.com, and will perform around 25 scientific experiments during their visit.
The Dragon capsule docked to the Harmony module of the orbiting station while the spacecraft was flying around 260 miles above the central Atlantic Ocean.
According to a NASA blog, the docking was delayed approximately 45 minutes due to mission controllers troubleshooting an issue that prevented the crew on the station to receive views from the Dragon’s centre line camera of the Harmony’s modules docking port.
A few hours later, the hatch of the Dragon capsule opened at 10:13am EDT following leak checks on the spacecraft, performed by NASA astronaut and station commander, Thomas Marshburn.
“We’re happy to be here, even though we’re a bit late", López-Alegría said in the live coverage when the crew arrived.
“Looking forward to the next chapter. Thanks for all the great work".
The astronauts will spend 10 days in orbit – eight of those on the station – before returning to Earth and splashing down on one of the landing sites off the coast of Florida.
“The company was formed in order to build the next commercial space station,” said Derek Hassmann, the operations director for Axiom Space during a pre-launch briefing on 7 April, according to Space.com.
Ax-1 will mark the first of many Axiom missions to the ISS, as the company was chosen in January last year by NASA to begin building private modules in late 2024 on the station to eventually detach and become a free-flying station for commercial use.
Once established, it will nearly double the usable volume of the ISS, according to Axiom.
“So, this precursor mission is the first of several that will lead up to that 2024 module launch,” he added.
Bella Richards is a journalist who has written for several local newspapers, her university newspaper and a tech magazine, and completed her Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) at the University of Technology Sydney in 2020. She joined Momentum Media in 2021, and has since written breaking news stories across Space Connect, Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
You can email Bella on: [email protected]
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