The International Space Station’s first fully private astronaut team welcomed aboard the orbiting platform


The final approach was delayed about 45 minutes by a technical problem with a video feed used to monitor the capsule’s rendezvous with the ISS, but it was otherwise smooth.

The multinational Axiom team, which plans to spend eight days in orbit, was led by Spanish-born retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 63, the company’s vice president of business development.

His second-in-command was Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur and aerobatic aviator from Ohio assigned as a mission pilot. Connor is over 70, but the company did not provide his exact age.

Rounding out the Axe-1 crew were Israeli investor-philanthropist and former fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52, both mission specialists .

Once docking was complete, it took nearly two hours for the sealed passageway between the space station and the crew capsule to be pressurized and checked for leaks before the hatches were opened to allow the newly arrived astronauts to board the ISS.

The AX-1 team was greeted by the seven regular government-paid crew members who already occupy the space station: three American astronauts, a German astronaut from the European Space Agency and three Russian cosmonauts.

NASA’s webcast showed the four smiling Axiom astronauts, dressed in navy blue flight suits, floating headfirst, one by one, through the space station’s portal, warmly welcomed with hugs and hugs. handshakes by the ISS crew.

Lopez-Alegria then pinned astronaut wings to the uniforms of her Axiom team’s three spaceflight recruits – Connor, Stibbe and Pathy – during a brief welcome ceremony.

Stibbe is now the second Israeli to fly in space, after Ilan Ramon, who perished along with six NASA crewmates in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

SCIENCE-DRIVEN

The newcomers brought with them two dozen scientific and biomedical experiments to conduct aboard the ISS, including research into brain health, heart stem cells, cancer and aging, as well as a demonstration technology to produce optics using the surface tension of fluids in microgravity.

The mission, a collaboration between Axiom, Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX and NASA, was touted by the three as a major step in expanding space business activities collectively referred to by insiders as the in-orbit economy. terrestrial low, or ‘LEO economy’ for short.

NASA officials say the trend will help the US space agency focus more of its resources on scientific exploration, including its Artemis program to return humans to the Moon and eventually Mars.

While the space station has welcomed civilian visitors from time to time, the Ax-1 mission marks the first all-commercial team of astronauts sent to the ISS for its intended purpose as an orbiting research laboratory.

The Axiom mission is also SpaceX’s sixth human spaceflight in nearly two years, following four NASA astronaut missions to the space station and the launch of Inspiration 4 in September that sent an all-civilian crew into orbit to the first time. This flight did not dock with the ISS.

Axiom executives say their plans for astronauts and plans to build a private space station in Earth orbit go well beyond the astrotourism services offered to wealthy thrill seekers by companies such as Blue Origin. and Virgin Galactic, owned by billionaire entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Richard, respectively. Branson.

Reuters

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