SpaceX launches first all-private astronaut crew to the International Space Station

Four private astronauts head to orbit atop a tower of reusable fire and aluminum. (Richard Angle)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft have successfully begun the first all-private astronaut mission to an orbital space station

Following a string of delays from late 2021, February 2022, March 2022, and the first week of April 2022, Axiom-1 lifted off as planned on April 8th, 2022, successfully carrying four private astronauts into low Earth orbit (LEO). The mission’s Falcon 9 rocket performed exactly as has come to be expected, upholding its growing reputation as the most reliable orbital-class rocket ever launched. Axiom-1 was the Falcon family’s 122nd successful launch in a row – a record that no other rocket in history has achieved. Simultaneously, Falcon 9 booster B1062 – flying for a record fifth time – also stuck the landing aboard drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG), marking the Falcon family’s 39th consecutively successful landing.

(Richard Angle)

Axiom-1’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is also set its own human spaceflight record, becoming the first crewed space capsule in history to launch astronauts three times. Prior to Ax-1, Crew Dragon ‘Endeavour’ (capsule C206) aced Demo-2 – SpaceX’s inaugural astronaut launch and landing – in May and August 2020 and supported Crew-2 – SpaceX’s second operational crew launch and recovery – in April and November 2021. While completing those two prior missions, Dragon C206 has spent 263 days in orbit.

Now in orbit for the third time in less than two years and second time in less than one year, Dragon C206 has a roughly 20-hour journey ahead of it to tweak and raise its orbit, complete rendezvous operations, and ultimately deliver brand new private astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe to the International Space Station (ISS). The latter three – all wealthy private individuals – have paid around $55 million for the privilege and will spend around 10 days in orbit and 8 days at the orbiting laboratory, enjoying the experience and helping conduct a number of science experiments when possible. Axiom Space has already purchased four such private ISS missions from SpaceX.

Pending cooperative weather, the Ax-1 crew will board Crew Dragon and return to Earth around April 18th, hopefully marking Dragon C206’s third successful crew reentry, descent, and splashdown. If all goes well, SpaceX could launch its fourth operational NASA astronaut mission – Crew-4 – as few as 3 days later and 13 days after Axiom-1 lifted off. If SpaceX and NASA maintain that schedule, it will be the fastest turnaround between two crewed US launches in more than half a century.

SpaceX launches first all-private astronaut crew to the International Space Station
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