The first private astronaut team welcomed the space station aboard an orbital platform

April 9 (Reuters) – The first fully private team of astronauts ever launched to the International Space Station (ISS) was welcomed aboard the Orbital Research Platform on Saturday to begin a week-long science mission billed as a milestone in commercial spaceflight.

Their arrival came about 21 hours after a four-man team representing Houston-based Axiom Space lifted off Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, aboard a SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

The Crew Dragon capsule was launched into orbit by the rocket that docked at the International Space Station at about 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Saturday as the two spacecraft were hovering about 250 miles (420 km) over the mid-Atlantic. , Live online broadcast of the coupling of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration showed.

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The final approach was delayed by about 45 minutes due to a technical glitch in the video feed used to monitor the capsule’s appointment with the International Space Station, but it proceeded smoothly.

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

The second man in command was Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur and flight pilot from Ohio who was appointed as the mission pilot. Connor is in his 70s, but the company has not stated his exact age.

Among the Ax-1 crew members were philanthropist investor and former Israeli fighter pilot Eitan Step, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Bathy, 52, both of whom serve as mission specialists.

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With the docking accomplished, it took nearly two hours for the sealed passageway between the space station and the crew capsule to be compressed and checked for leaks before the hatches opened to allow the newly arrived astronauts to board the International Space Station.

The Ax-1 team has been welcomed by all seven regular, government-paid crew members who already operate the space station: three American astronauts, one German astronaut from the European Space Agency and three Russian cosmonauts.

A four-man Axiom team, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, lifts off on the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Thom Baur

NASA’s webcast showed the four smiling Axiom astronauts, in dark blue flight suits, floating their heads, one by one, through the gate to the space station, and they were greeted warmly by the International Space Station crew with hugs and handshakes.

Lopez-Alegria later attached astronaut wings to the uniforms of the three Axiom astronauts—Connor, Stipe and Pathé—during a brief welcome party.

Stipe is now the second Israeli to fly into space, after Ilan Ramon, who was killed along with six of his NASA colleagues in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster.

science focus

The newcomers brought with them twenty scientific and biomedical experiments to conduct aboard the International Space Station, including research on brain health, cardiac stem cells, cancer and aging, as well as a technical demonstration of producing optics using the surface tension of liquids in microgravity.

The mission, a collaboration between Axiom, Elon Musk’s rocket subsidiary SpaceX, and NASA, has been described by the three as a major step in expanding space-based businesses that are collectively referred to by insiders as the Low Earth Orbit Economy, or “LEO economy.” LEO in short. Read more

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NASA officials say this trend will help the US space agency focus more of its resources on major science exploration, including the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

While the space station has hosted occasional civilian visitors, the Ax-1 mission represents the first commercial team of astronauts to be sent to the International Space Station for its intended purpose as an orbiting research laboratory.

The Axiom mission also marks 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 an all-civilian crew into orbit for the first time. That flight did not dock with the International Space Station.

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

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(Steve Gorman reports from Los Angeles.) Editing by Angus McSwan, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Otis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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