WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four private astronauts arrived on the International Space Station on April 9 for a scheduled eight-day layover.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavor docked with the station at 8:29 a.m. Eastern, about 21 hours after reaching orbit after launching on a Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center. The docking was about 45 minutes behind schedule because the Dragon lurked 20 meters from the station while the ISS crew and ground controllers worked on an issue with the video they needed to support the docking.
The hatches between the Dragon and the station opened almost two hours later and the four members of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission entered the station: Mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy. López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, is an Axiom employee, and Connor, Stibbe, and Pathy are Axiom clients, each paying an estimated $55 million.
The four are scheduled to spend eight days on the ISS to conduct research and other commercial activities and outreach. “We are here to experience this, but we understand that there is a responsibility,” Connor said during a welcome ceremony on the ISS. “The responsibility lies with this first civilian crew to get it right and we are fully committed to that.”
However, time in space isn’t all serious. López-Alegría said his crew members were all blown away by their first view of Earth from space. “It’s just an amazing experience,” he said during the welcome ceremony, which he also presented Connor, Stibbe and Pathy with astronaut pins from the Association of Space Explorers, an international organization of astronauts.
The Ax-1 mission is part of a busy schedule of activities on the ISS that includes the eventual Crew-4 mission, which will transport four NASA and European Space Agency astronauts to the station, also on a Crew Dragon, and the eventual Return of the four NASA and ESA Crew 3 astronauts are currently on station.
“We’re on a really tight schedule,” said Dana Weigel, NASA ISS deputy program manager, at the Ax-1 post-launch briefing on April 8. NASA wants to launch Crew-4 in time for Crew-3 to return around May 10 after a five-day “handover” when both crews are on the ISS. That would allow Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to launch on a second unmanned test flight called OFT-2 in late May.
Crew-4 is currently scheduled for launch on April 21, but Weigel called that a “really aggressive schedule.” She noted that both launch and splashdown weather were uncertain, which could impact those schedules.
“Our goal is to launch Crew-4 by the end of April and ramp down Crew-3 by mid-May to be ready for OFT-2,” Kathy Lueders, NASA assistant administrator for space operations, said after the launch briefing.