Ax-1: SpaceX and Axiom launch the first private mission for the International Space Station

The first fully private mission to the International Space Station lifted off from Florida on Friday with a four-member crew from start-up Axiom Space.

NASA has hailed the three-way partnership with Axiom and SpaceX as a key step toward commercializing the region of space known as the “Low Earth Orbit,” leaving the agency to focus on more ambitious journeys deeper. in the cosmos.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule launched at 11:17 a.m. (3:17 p.m. GMT or 8:47 p.m. IST) from Kennedy Space Center, and the spacecraft is expected to dock around 11:45 a.m. GMT (5:15 p.m. IST) on Saturday.

“We’re taking commercial activities off the surface of the Earth and putting them in space,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said.

“To say we’re thrilled is a huge understatement,” Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini told reporters after the launch, adding that it was the culmination of years of work for the Houston-based company. founded in 2016.

The Axiom 1 (Ax-1) mission commander is former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, a dual citizen of the United States and Spain, who flew into space four times during his 20-year career and last visited the ISS in 2007.

He is joined by three paying teammates: American real estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy and former Israeli fighter pilot, investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe.

The widely reported price of the tickets – which includes eight days on the outpost, before a possible splash in the Atlantic – is $55 million (about Rs. 417.5 crore).

While wealthy private citizens have visited the ISS before, Ax-1 is the first mission featuring an all-private crew piloting a private spacecraft to the outpost. Axiom pays SpaceX for transportation, and NASA also charges Axiom for use of the ISS.

Aboard the ISS, which orbits 400 kilometers above sea level, the quartet will conduct 25 research projects, including an MIT technology demonstration of smart tiles that robotically swarm and self-assemble in spatial architecture.

Another experiment involves using cancer stem cells to grow mini-tumors and then taking advantage of the accelerated aging environment of microgravity to identify biomarkers for the early detection of cancers.

“The difference is that our guys don’t go up there and float around for eight days to take pictures and look out the cupola,” Derek Hassmann, Axiom Space’s chief operating officer, told reporters during a briefing. pre-launch briefing.

Additionally, crew member Stibbe plans to pay tribute to his late friend Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, who died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spacecraft disintegrated during reentry.

The surviving pages of Ramon’s space diary, along with memories of his children, will be brought to the station by Stibbe.

Axiom’s crew will live and work alongside the station’s regular crew: currently three Americans and one German on the US side, and three Russians on the Russian side.

The company has partnered on a total of four missions with SpaceX, and NASA has already approved in principle the second, Ax-2.

Axiom sees the journeys as the first steps towards a bigger goal: to build its own private space station. The first module should be launched in 2024.

The station is planned to initially be attached to the ISS, before eventually flying autonomously when the latter retires and is deorbited after 2030.


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