First fully private space station crew of astronauts welcomed aboard orbiting platform

April 9 (Reuters) – The first private team of astronauts ever launched to the International Space Station (ISS) was welcomed aboard the orbiting research platform on Saturday to begin a week-long scientific mission hailed as a milestone in flight. commercial space.

Their arrival came about 21 hours after the four-man team representing Houston-based startup Axiom Space Inc blasted off Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, riding atop a SpaceX-launched Falcon 9 rocket. .

The Crew Dragon capsule was launched into orbit by the ISS-attached rocket around 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Saturday as the two spacecraft flew approximately 250 miles (420 km) above the central Atlantic Ocean, a live webcast. of the docking of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration showed.

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Final approach was delayed by about 45 minutes due to a technical failure with a video feed used to monitor the capsule’s encounter with the ISS, but otherwise went smoothly.

The multinational Axiom team, which plans to spend eight days in orbit, was led by retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, 63, born in Spain, the company’s vice president of business development.

His second-in-command was Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur and aerobatic aviator from Ohio designated as the mission’s pilot. Connor is 70 years old, but the company did not provide his precise age.

Rounding out the Ax-1 crew were Israeli investor, philanthropist and former fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52, both serving as mission specialists.

Once docking was achieved, it took nearly two hours to pressurize the sealed passageway between the space station and crew capsule and check for leaks before the hatches were opened to allow the newly arrived astronauts to board. the ISS.

The Ax-1 team was greeted by the seven regular government-paid crew members already occupying the space station: three American astronauts, a German European Space Agency astronaut and three Russian cosmonauts.

Axiom’s four-man team blasts off, mounted on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA on April 8, 2022 REUTERS/Thom Baur

NASA’s webcast showed the four smiling Axiom astronauts, dressed in navy blue flight suits, floating headfirst, one by one, through the portal into the space station, greeted warmly with hugs and handshakes from the ISS crew.

Later, López-Alegría pinned astronaut wings to the uniforms of the three spaceflight rookies on her Axiom team, Connor, Stibbe and Pathy, during a brief welcoming ceremony.

Stibbe is now the second Israeli to fly into space, after Ilan Ramon, who perished with six NASA crewmates in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster.

FOCUSED ON SCIENCE

The new arrivals brought with them two dozen scientific and biomedical experiments to conduct aboard the ISS, including research on brain health, heart stem cells, cancer and aging, as well as a technology demonstration to produce elements optics using the surface tension of fluids in microgravity.

The mission, a collaboration between Axiom, Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company, and NASA, has been touted by all three as an important step in expanding commercial space-based activities, which experts collectively refer to as like the Low Earth Orbit economy, or “LEO economy” for short. read more

NASA officials say the trend will help the US space agency focus more resources on scientific exploration, including its Artemis program to send humans back to the moon and ultimately Mars.

While the space station has seen civilian visitors from time to time, the Ax-1 mission marks the first commercial team of astronauts sent to the ISS for its intended purpose as an orbiting research laboratory.

The Axiom mission also stands as SpaceX’s sixth human spaceflight in nearly two years, following four NASA astronaut missions to the space station and the launch of Inspiration 4 in September that sent a civilian crew into orbit for first time. That flight did not dock with the ISS.

Axiom executives say their astronaut adventures and plans to build a private space station in Earth orbit go far beyond the astrotourism services that companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic offer to wealthy thrill-seekers. (SPCE.N)Owned respectively by billionaire entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

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Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Edited by Angus MacSwan, Daniel Wallis, and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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