The four-person crew of this mission, called AX-1, landed from the ISS aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule around 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, and they flew freely into orbit, gradually reducing their altitude, during the night. They are expected to disembark around 1 p.m. ET on Monday, finally concluding a mission that lasted a week longer than expected as bad weather and other delays pushed back their departure.
The mission was brokered by Houston, Texas-based startup Axiom Space, which books rocket towers, provides all necessary training and coordinates flights to the ISS for anyone who can afford it. There are four crew members on this flight – Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut turned Axiom employee who commands the mission; Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe; Canadian investor Mark Pathy; and Ohio-based real estate magnate Larry Connor.
The splashdown return is considered the most dangerous stretch of the mission. The Crew Dragon capsule is moving at over 17,000 miles per hour, and as it begins the final leg of its descent, the exterior of the Crew Dragon capsule will heat up to approximately 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit as it returns in the thickest part of the Earth’s atmosphere. Inside the spacecraft cabin, passengers will be protected by a heat shield and the temperature is expected to remain below 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Crew Dragon will then deploy sets of parachutes as it drops back towards the Atlantic Ocean. Rescue teams will be waiting near the sinking site to ferry the spacecraft out of the ocean and onto a special boat, called the “Dragon’s Nest”, where final security checks will take place before the crew disembarks. .
AX-1, which launched on April 8, was originally billed as a 10-day mission, but eventually stretched to around 17 days, 15 of which were spent on the ISS.
During their first days on the space station, the group stuck to a strict schedule, which included approximately 14 hours a day of activities, including scientific research that was designed by various research hospitals, universities, technology companies and more. They have also spent time organizing outreach events via video conference with children and students.
The weather delays then gave them “a bit more time to absorb the remarkable sights of the blue planet and review the tremendous amount of work that was successfully accomplished during the mission,” according to Axiom.
It is not known how much this mission cost. Axiom previously disclosed a price of $55 million per seat for a 10-day trip to the ISS, but the company declined to comment on the financial terms of that specific mission beyond saying at a press conference. last year that the price is in the “tens”. millions.”
The mission was made possible thanks to very close coordination between Axiom, SpaceX and NASA, since the ISS is funded and operated by the government. And the space agency has revealed some details about the price it charges for the use of its 20-year-old orbiting lab.
For each mission, providing the necessary NASA astronaut support will cost commercial customers $5.2 million, and all mission support and planning that NASA lends will cost an additional $4.8 million. In space, food alone costs about $2,000 per day per person. Getting supplies to and from the space station for a commercial crew costs an additional $88,000 to $164,000 per person per day.
But the extra days the AX-1 crew spends in space due to weather won’t increase their own overall price, according to a NASA statement.
“Knowing that International Space Station mission objectives, such as the recently completed Russian spacewalk or weather challenges, could result in a delayed undocking, NASA negotiated the contract with a strategy that does not require reimbursement for additional undocking delays,” the statement read.
AX-1 did not mark the first time paying customers or other non-astronauts visited the ISS, as Russia sold seats on its Soyuz spacecraft to various wealthy thrill seekers in past years.
But AX-1 is the first mission with a crew consisting entirely of private citizens with no active members of a government astronaut corps accompanying them in the capsule during the journey to and from the ISS. It’s also the first time that private citizens have traveled to the ISS aboard a US-made spacecraft.
The mission has sparked a new round of debate over whether people who pay for their trip to space should be called “astronauts”, although it should be noted that a trip to the ISS requires a far greater investment of time and money than taking a brief suborbital ride on a rocket built by companies like Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic.
López-Alegría, a veteran of four space trips between 1995 and 2007 during his time with NASA, had this to say about it: “This mission is very different from what you may have heard about in some recent – especially suborbital – missions. We are not space tourists. I think space tourism has an important role to play, but that is not what Axiom is about.
Although paying customers did not receive astronaut wings from the US government, they did receive the “Universal Astronaut Insignia” – a gold lapel pin recently designed by the Association of Space Explorers, an international group of astronauts from 38 countries. López-Alegría presented Stibbe, Pathy and Connor with their pins during a welcoming ceremony after the group arrived at the space station.