(ORDO NEWS) — The pioneering Ax-1 private astronaut mission has left the International Space Station (ISS) and is returning to Earth.
Today (April 25) at 04:10 UTC, the SpaceX Dragon Ax-1 capsule called Endeavor undocked from the orbiting laboratory. If all goes according to plan, Endeavor and its four passengers will splash down off the coast of Florida on Monday at 20:06 GMT.
“Thanks again for your support on this amazing adventure,” Ax-1 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria said on NASA radio in Houston after undocking. “Even longer and more interesting than we thought. We really appreciate your professionalism, and on this we take our leave.”
Mother Nature delayed the capsule’s departure from the station several times. The Ax-1 was originally supposed to undock on Tuesday morning (April 19) and arrive on Earth in the early hours of Wednesday (April 20), but forecasted bad weather in the descent zone pushed back the timeline by about 12 hours.
And these bad conditions persisted, causing further delays until Endeavor was finally able to set off today.
Endeavor and the Ax-1 crew launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 8 and arrived at the ISS on April 9, becoming the first ever crewed private mission to visit the station.
The mission was organized by Houston-based Axiom Space and led by Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who is now Axiom’s vice president of business development. The other three passengers are Americans Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Paty and Israeli Eitan Stibbe, who each reportedly paid about $55 million for their seat.
Stibbe is only the second Israeli to ever be in space. The first, Ilan Ramon, was killed along with six crew members in the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster. Stibbe and Ramon were friends.
Ax-1 is not just an isolated case for Axiom Space. The company has ordered several more flights to the ISS from SpaceX and also plans to start operating its own private space station in Earth orbit in the late 2020s or so.
While the Ax-1 is the first private crewed flight to the ISS, it is not the first such attempt to reach Earth orbit: The Inspiration4 private mission sent four people into Earth orbit in a Dragon capsule for three days in September 2021.
The extra time Ax-1 spent aboard the ISS didn’t end up costing Axiom Space the extra money. Under a contract the company has with NASA, the Ax-1 will stay on the ISS for several days, an agency spokesman said.
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