CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX will send a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers on a trip to the International Space Station. This mission called Ax-1 takes off today (April 8th)!
Today’s launch, which comes a few days later than expected after a delay in NASA’s Artemis 1 “wet dress rehearsal,” will launch the first manned mission organized by a Texas-based company axiom space. Ax-1 will embark on a 10-day mission to the space station, commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría. The mission will also fly fare-paying passengers Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe.
Ax-1 is scheduled for launch today (April 8) at 11:17 am EDT (1517 GMT) from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here on Florida’s Space Coast. The crew will take off aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle on a Falcon 9 rocket.
You can watch the start live right away here at Space.com or directly via SpaceX’s YouTube page (opens in new tab). The live webcast will begin at approximately 7:55 am EDT (1155 GMT).
Live Updates: Private Ax-1 mission to the space station
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The Details: Ax-1
If today’s launch goes according to plan, Ax-1 will dock with the space station around 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT) tomorrow (April 9). The mission will last 10 days in total, with eight of those days being spent aboard the space station by the crew. This will be the first manned mission for Axiom Space, as well as the first fully private mission to the station.
“When I was a kid, I was so inspired by the early manned missions that NASA deployed the first three [human spaceflight programs] — Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions,” López-Alegría said during a prelaunch press conference on April 1. “It’s been such an inspiration to me and to be able to be a part of what I feel opens the next chapter is truly an honor.”
“I have no hesitation in saying that we are ready to fly,” he added.
Ax-1 will deliver López-Alegría and his three crew members to the on-orbit laboratory. Prior to launch, the crew completed a pre-flight quarantine, something routine for all corporate and space agency astronauts. This is to protect all astronauts aboard the space station from contamination that could be transmitted with the incoming spacecraft.
The three paying crew members, who are believed to have each paid about $55 million for their seats, won’t be just for a spin, however. You will carry supplies and scientific experiments to be carried out on the space station.
These experiments include an Israeli startup’s “brain headset” designed to study how the brain responds to space travel and life in space, and other scientific equipment from the nonprofit Ramon Foundation. Mission Specialist Stibbe is supporting these experiments on behalf of the foundation he co-founded in memory of his friend, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on board Space Shuttle Columbia during the mission’s tragic end in 2003. Stibbe will be the second Israeli to reach orbit; Ramon was the first.
Axiom’s Ax-1 mission is a major first for the company, but it is part of a much larger plan to build a commercial space station in orbit. The company has already started construction what it says will be the world’s first commercial space station.
Axiom plans to launch its first module to the ISS in 2024 and send up several more in the following years. Those modules will eventually detach from the ISS and become Axiom’s free-flying station in orbit, the company said.
Why the delay?
The mission’s launch was pushed back from April 6 to April 8, likely due to delays in Nasa’s Artemis 1 dress rehearsal. The Wet Dress, which is essentially a rehearsal for launch, which involves fully refueling the rocket and running it of a countdown and a variety of other steps to ensure the actual launch day goes according to plan, encountered issues with the pad and moved the refueling portion of the test from April 3rd to April 4th.
“Inspections after the second test showed that the vent valve that prevented the team from proceeding with charging liquid hydrogen was physically configured in a closed position, preventing it from being remotely commanded to an open position. The valve positioning has since been corrected.” NASA said in a statement (opens in new tab).
While testing activities were conducted over those two days, testing was delayed even further and on April 5, members of the mission team announced in a press conference that the Axiom launch would continue and Artemis 1 activities would resume after launch.