Commercial crew docks with the International Space Station after a smooth rendezvous

Four civilians in a chartered SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station early Saturday, kicking off the first NASA-sanctioned commercial visit to the lab complex by a private company.

Launched Friday From Kennedy Space Center, the Axiom-1 Crew Dragon – Endeavor – performed an automated 8 p.m. rendezvous, catching up with the space station and moving to dock with the lab’s Advanced Harmony Module at 8:29 a.m. EDT.

The link was delayed about 45 minutes due to a video configuration issue on the space station, but the Crew Dragon had no problems and the final push to docking was perfect.

The space station’s seven long-term crew members welcomed the four AX-1 commercial astronauts aboard the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony.

NASA television

“Hope you enjoyed the extra half orbit in Dragon, or at least found it memorable,” a SpaceX flight controller said over the radio. “Welcome to the International Space Station.”

After extended leak checks to verify an airtight structural seal, hatches were opened and Axiom-1 crew members – retired astronaut and mission commander Michael Lopéz-Alegría , property manager Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe – floated through the resort.

Welcoming their new teammates with hugs and handshakes, Station Commander Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and German astronaut Matthias Maurer, launched on board another Crew Dragon last November. Also present: Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Medveev and Sergey Korsakov, who arrival at the outpost last month.

A camera in the SpaceX Crew Dragon looks over the shoulders of Commander Michael Lopéz-Alegría, left, and co-pilot Larry Connor during the final approach to the International Space Station.

SpaceX/NASA Television

All 11 gathered in the Harmony module for a traditional “welcome aboard” ceremony.

“You look great,” Mike Suffredini, CEO of Axiom Space, the Houston-based company that funded the mission, said over the radio. “The Ride of the Dragon, looks like you enjoyed it. … We’ve been talking about this historic mission for a long time, so we’ll stop talking about it now and move on. So, you have a great mission. We look forward to it with impatience.

Connor said he was “delighted and honored to be here”.

“Thanks to SpaceX, phenomenal ride. Thanks to Axiom for making this dream come true. Thanks to NASA, thanks to all the crew. We’re here to experience this, but we understand there’s a responsibility, and the responsibility is for this prime civilian crew to get it right.

During Crew Dragon’s final approach, a camera on the International Space Station captured the nearby SpaceX capsule and the distant moon suspended in the pitch black of space.

NASA television

“And that’s what we’re fully committed to. … It’s going to be a busy research week for us, and I’m sure it will pass.”

Pathy summed up: “Wow, it’s just amazing to be here. It’s hard to find the words, but it’s been an amazing journey.”

So far, Axiom Space has booked four Crew Dragon flights through SpaceX, launching the first mission, Ax-1, on Friday. This is the first entirely commercial, non-governmental flight to the International Space Station.

During nearly 10 days at dock, the Ax-1 crew plans to perform 25 privately developed experiments, perform technology demonstrations and Earth observations, and participate in public outreach sessions. They are expected to undocking on April 19 and return to a dip in the ocean, weather permitting.

For Axiom, the flight represents a major step towards the goal of launching multiple modules to the space station, beginning in late 2024, to serve as a commercial research facility. When the ISS is retired at the end of the decade, Axiom plans to separate its linked modules to serve as a free-flying commercial space station.

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