SpaceX launches commercial mission to ISS

COLORADO SPRINGS — SpaceX launched a Crew Dragon spacecraft on April 8, carrying four commercial astronauts to the International Space Station for Axiom Space.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 11:17 a.m. EDT. The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavor, which had previously flown the commercial Crew missions Demo-2 and Crew-2 for NASA, reached orbit and separated from the rocket’s upper stage 12 minutes later.

The first stage of the rocket landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic on its fifth flight. The stage had previously launched SpaceX’s first non-NASA crewed Dragon mission, Inspiration4, last September, as well as two GPS missions and a set of Starlink satellites.

Endeavor flies the Ax-1 mission for commercial human spaceflight company Axiom Space. The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the ISS on April 9 at approximately 7:45 a.m. EST for an eight-day stay.

The Ax-1 is commanded by Michael López-Alegría, chief astronaut of Axiom Space. A former NASA astronaut, he has flown on three Shuttle missions and one Soyuz mission, the latter for a six-month stay on the ISS. He holds NASA records for most career spacewalks, 10, and cumulative spacewalk time, 67 hours and 40 minutes. After retiring from NASA a decade ago, he has held several industry positions, including president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group.

Larry Connor, one of the mission’s three customers, is also a Crew Dragon pilot for Ax-1. He is the founder and president of the Connor Group, a real estate investment firm in Ohio. He is a private pilot who has competed in aerobatic competitions and a racing driver.

Eytan Stibbe is the second Israeli to go into space, after Ilan Ramon, who died in 2003 on the STS-107 shuttle mission. A former Israeli Air Force pilot, an investor who calls his mission “Rakia,” a biblical term for the creation of heaven.

Mark Pathy is a Canadian entrepreneur and CEO of Marvik, an investment and financing company. He is the 12th Canadian in space and the second Canadian private astronaut after Guy Laliberté, who flew to the ISS on a Soyuz mission in 2009.

All four plan to conduct dozens of experiments lasting more than 100 hours and support research from organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Canadian universities and Israel’s Ramon Foundation and Israel Space Agency. The Ax-1 crew stressed that because of the research they conducted and their extensive training, they considered themselves “private astronauts” rather than space tourists.

“Our guys aren’t going to go up there and float around for eight days, taking pictures and looking out of the dome,” Derek Hassmann, operations director at Axiom Space, said at a prelaunch briefing on April 7.

The mission paves the way for future commercial missions to the ISS, itself serving as a transition to Axiom installing commercial modules on the ISS and by the end of the decade to one or more commercial space stations that will replace the ISS.

“We are very excited to see this. We know that working side-by-side on a very aggressive schedule in orbit during these eight days, we will learn a lot from this first mission,” said Angela Hart, NASA’s commercial LEO program director, at the pre-launch briefing . “We are committed to continuing these private astronaut missions.”

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