First private mission to the International Space Station lifts off
History was made today when Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), the first private crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 11:17 am EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Private astronauts are far from a new thing and there has even been a private orbital mission, but the launch of Ax-1 is the first where a privately owned and operated spacecraft with a private crew has set off with the ISS as its destination. Aboard the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour were Mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe.
The lift off went off on time and without significant problems, with the rocket's first-stage engine shutting down at the two-minute-35-second mark. The second stage separated four seconds later and fired its engine to burn for about six minutes. The Dragon spacecraft separated at about 12 minutes into the flight with the nose cone opening less than a minute later. Meanwhile, the first stage made a controlled burn for a powered landing on a drone barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
Ax-1 is now carrying out a series of orbital maneuvers for rendezvous with the ISS. Autonomous docking is scheduled for about 7:45 am EDT on Saturday, after which the crew will be greeted by the ISS Expedition 67 crew consisting of NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron; ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer; and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsokov, and Denis Matveev.
Once aboard, the Ax-1 astronauts will spend over a week conducting scientific research and commercial activities before returning to Earth for a splashdown off the coast of Florida. This is the first of a scheduled two visits per year as opportunities become available. Later, the Axiom station module will be installed on the ISS. When the space lab is decommissioned, the module will be detached and form the basis for a private orbital station.
"I first want to congratulate Michael, Larry, Eytan, and Mark," said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space. "We will usher in a new era in private human spaceflight when they cross the threshold to enter the International Space Station. This journey is the culmination of long hours of training, planning, and dedication from the crew and the entire Axiom Space team, our partners at SpaceX, and of course, a credit to NASA’s vision to develop a sustainable presence in low-Earth orbit."
The video below is a replay of the Ax-1 mission launch.