First All-Private Astronaut Team Arrives at the International Space Station

First All-Private Astronaut Team Arrives at the International Space Station
Eleven astronauts now occupy the ISS. The four Axiom crew members are standing (floating?) upright at the back. (Image: NASA)

A SpaceX Crew Dragon safely delivered four private astronauts — not affiliated with any space agency — to the International Space Station this past Saturday. With the Axiom crew now onboard, the first all-private mission to the ISS can get down to business.

SpaceX capsule Endeavour reached the ISS at 8:20 a.m. EDT on Saturday, April 9, following a nearly 21-hour journey. The crew of the Ax-1 mission — Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe, and Mark Pathy — launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The ISS is currently orbiting at a height of 260 miles (418 km) above Earth.

The docking would’ve happened 45 minutes earlier, had it not been for a problem having to do with ISS crew members not being able to receive video from the Crew Dragon’s centre line camera. Ground controllers remedied the problem by routing video from a SpaceX ground station, according to NASA.

Crew Dragon Endeavour docked at the ISS.  (Image: Axiom Space)Crew Dragon Endeavour docked at the ISS. (Image: Axiom Space)

The four crew members will stay on the orbital outpost for eight days, where they will perform some 25 experiments having to do with science, education, and commercial activities. Axiom Space is aiming to build the world’s first fully commercial space station, the construction of which is slated to begin at the ISS in late 2024. The Ax-1 mission represents an important milestone in the ongoing commercialization of low Earth orbit.

The opening of the Crew Dragon hatch happened at 10:13 a.m. EDT, whereupon the Expedition 67 crew welcomed the Ax-1 team. The addition of these four men brings the total ISS population to 11, the others being NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Korsokov, Oleg Artemyev, and Denis Matveev. Three members of the Ax-1 crew received a pin from the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) to formally recognise their new status as astronauts.

“There’s a tradition when you pass a certain boundary, you become an astronaut. That happened to these three gentlemen for the first time yesterday. Now I’d like to note it officially,” López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, said during Saturday’s welcome ceremony. “When I pin these on — I think the numbers are 582, 583, and 584 for Larry, Eytan, and Mark — I hope they will wear these with the pride they deserve,” he said, in reference to the total number of formally recognised astronauts to date.

The Ax-1 team is now adjusting to microgravity and familiarising themselves with the space station. On Sunday, López-Alegría tweeted out a stunning image of Earth, saying: “La vida es corta; vívala a tope!,” which translates from Spanish to English as “Life is short; live it to the fullest!”

Axiom said the first day was mostly about preparing equipment for what will be a very busy week. The team has just 100 hours to complete their respective tasks. You can learn more about the Ax-1 mission and what the team is trying to achieve here.