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Ambitious Axiom Space successfully wraps up first private mission to the ISS


Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday at 1:06 p.m. EDT gave the first private mission to the International Space Station its grand finale — though not without a few false starts.

The mission launched on April 8, 2022, and was intended to be in space for around 10 days. But a return last Wednesday had to be postponed due to weather events, stretching the crews’ stay on the ISS by a few days and delaying the launch of NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission. The crew was finally able to depart Sunday, with a deorbit burn at 12:28 p.m. EDT Monday sealing their return.

During their stay, the four Axiom-1 (Ax-1) members soaked in life as space travelers by taking photos from the station’s cupola, talking to classrooms worldwide, and assisting microgravity experiments while living alongside the seven government-affiliated astronauts of Expedition 67.

Their temporary home drifts roughly 227 nautical miles above Earth, zipping around our planet at 17,500 miles per hour. The ISS is one of the most ambitious international collaborations ever attempted, but after more than 20 years in space, this may be its last decade. To redirect focus to getting humans farther away from Earth to reach the Moon and Mars, NASA is inviting the private sector to build low-Earth orbit stations. That’s why Ax-1 is important — Axiom Space wants to create its own station.

This April 15, 2022, image shows the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour crew ship docked to the Harmony module of the space station. NASA/ISS

Monday’s successful return journey on Endeavour, a SpaceX Dragon crew capsule that has previously flown into space, marks the end of the first human spaceflight mission from Axiom Space. The Houston-based company wants to be the first to launch a private space station into low-Earth orbit, offering a commercial replacement for the iconic ISS.

Ax-1’s return journey began at 9:10 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, when Endeavour undocked from the station. Ax-1 included Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy. Teams monitored weather conditions before giving the crew clearance to come back home.

NASA Deputy Chief of Staff Bale Dalton (left) and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson (right) watch the launch of the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) on April 8, 2022. NASA/Joel Kowsky/Flickr

“I think that is sort of a first step toward a real democratization of this experience,” López-Alegría said last Tuesday, prior to the first intended departure. “It’s going to take a while, because the prices are obviously quite high now. But I think that in the future, this will be something that we can share with more of humanity, and make humankind all the better for it.”

Endeavour’s successful splashdown off the Florida coast near Jacksonville brought more than 200 pounds of NASA experiments, hardware, and supplies back to Earth.

Axiom-1’s science work on the ISS included wearing sensors and self-reporting through questionnaires to monitor stress, facilitating an in-orbit self-constructing satellite system called TESSERAE, and participating in the Cardioprotection experiment that “will reveal how to fly a more diverse population of space travelers.”

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