Axiom-1 Crew Back Home, Days Late But Safe and Sound

Axiom-1 Crew Back Home, Days Late But Safe and Sound

The first U.S.-sponsored private astronaut mission to the International Space Station is back on Earth today a week late because of weather delays. The four-man Axiom-1 crew was supposed to spend 10 days in space, eight of them on the ISS, but high winds around Florida gave them bonus days, almost doubling their space station visit.

Axiom Space arranged the trip for three wealthy men from the United States, Canada and Israel — Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe — to fly to the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon. The price reportedly was $55 million each. The mission commander was former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee Michael López-Alegria, a veteran of four spaceflights.

They launched on Crew Dragon Endeavour on April 8. That was five days later than planned because they had to wait while NASA conducted the Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal test on an adjacent launch pad. Somewhat ironically, the test had to be scrubbed two days in a row, resumed after Axiom-1 launched, but was scrubbed again and today, after Axiom-1 landed, NASA began rolling Artemis I back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs before trying the test again.

In the meantime, Axiom-1 docked with the ISS on April 9 and began what was supposed to be eight days of scientific experiments and experiencing life in space with the seven professional astronauts and cosmonauts already there: Raja Chari (NASA), Tom Marshburn (NASA), Kayla Barron (NASA), Matthias Maurer (ESA/Germany), Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), Denis Matveev (Roscosmos), and Sergey Korsakov (Roscosmos).

The Axiom-1 crew along the back wall (from left, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Connor, Michael López-Alegria), being welcomed aboard the ISS on April 9, 2022 by ISS commander Tom Marshburn (NASA) in blue holding the mic. Russian Soyuz MS-21 commander Oleg Artemyev is next to him, also in blue. Marshburn’s Crew-3 crewmate Kayla Barron (NASA) is next to Artemyev and Raja Chari (NASA) and Matthias Maurer (ESA/Germany) are upside down. Artemyev’s Russian crewmates Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov are next to Barron. Screengrab.

Crew Dragons splash down in the water, not on terra firma, and high winds around Florida delayed their return, however. SpaceX has seven splashdown sites in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, but none were usable until today. The crew undocked last evening at 9:15 pm ET and splashed down in the Atlantic off the coast of Jacksonville at 1:06 pm ET this afternoon.

Crew Dragon Endeavour with the four-person Axiom-1 crew inside floats in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, FL while a SpaceX fast boat approaches, April 25, 2022. Screengrab.

The capsule was hoisted aboard SpaceX’s recovery ship just over 30 minutes after it hit the water. The crew stepped out on the deck of the ship, with a bit of assistance, in short order, looking happy to be home. They were flown by helicopter to the Jacksonville airport and then flew by airplane to Orlando where they will spend a few days underdoing checkups.

They spent 17 days in space instead of 10, and 15 days on the ISS instead of eight.

The three paying passengers not only paid Axiom Space for the trip, but had to reimburse NASA for use of the ISS according to NASA’s pricing plan. They did not incur extra costs because they stayed longer, however. Axiom Space Operations Director Derek Hassmann told reporters during a post-splashdown media telecon that delays are not uncommon and were anticipated in the contract they signed with NASA. There “will be no additional transfer of funds based on the extended mission,” he explained.

Axiom Space, SpaceX and NASA already have a second private astronaut mission to the ISS lined up for next year, Ax-2. It will be commanded by another former NASA astronaut, Peggy Whitson. One of the other three crew members already has been named, auto racer John Shoffner. Hassmann said today the other two will be announced “in the next few weeks.”

Hassmann said the company’s goal is to launch two private astronaut missions to the ISS each year. Its main business, though, is building a commercial space station, Axiom Station, to replace the ISS later this decade. The four modules will be launched successively beginning in 2024 and attach to the ISS, detaching once they are all there and becoming a free-flying space station that will be regularly visited by crews.

Although this was the first U.S.-sponsored private astronaut mission to the ISS, SpaceX launched a group of private astronauts to Earth orbit last year, the Inspiration4 flight. They did not visit ISS and SpaceX envisions more non-ISS flights in the future.

SpaceX Director of Human Spaceflight Programs Benji Reed said at today’s telecon that “half a dozen crewed flights a year would be great, or more” if the market is there, and that’s just with Crew Dragon. SpaceX is building the much larger Starship for taking people not only to Earth orbit, but the Moon and Mars. It already has a contract with NASA to take astronauts from lunar orbit down to and back from the lunar surface.

Reed said when Starship is ready, there will be lots of seats available, but declined to give an update on Starship’s schedule. SpaceX already has sold the first orbital flight of Starship to Jared Isaacman, who paid for and commanded Inspiration4, and the first flight around the Moon to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.

The era of non-professional astronauts certainly appears to have arrived. Some are loathe to be referred to as space tourists and the Axiom-1 passengers are among then. Hassmann stressed that Pathy, Connor and Stibbe conducted 26 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations while aboard the ISS with “academic and research partners around the globe” and themselves were research subjects. They also conducted over 30 Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) outreach events during the mission.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.