Hawthorne-based SpaceX took part in another historic milestone in space exploration Friday, launching the first all-private mission to the International Space Station.
SpaceX employed one of its Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules to carry out Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, which is propelling four people to the orbiting outpost. The launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida went off without a hitch at 8:17 a.m. California time.
The launch began a roughly 20.5-hour journey to the International Space Station, where the Dragon capsule is scheduled to dock at 4:45 a.m. Saturday, California time.
Flying in the capsule are mission commander Michael LÃ³pez-AlegrÃa, a former NASA astronaut and vice president of Axiom Space; pilot Larry Connor, a real estate entrepreneur and investor; mission specialist Eytan Stibbe, an investor and philanthropist; and mission specialist Mark Pathy, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
LÃ³pez-AlegrÃa flew into space four times during his NASA career, including three space shuttle flights and one trip to the ISS aboard a Soyuz mission.
“This journey is the culmination of long hours of training, planning, and dedication from the crew and the entire Axiom Space team, our partners at SpaceX, and of course, a credit to NASA’s vision to develop a sustainable presence in low-Earth orbit,” Axiom Space President/CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement after the launch.
The crew will spend a total of 10 days in space — two traveling and eight aboard the ISS. But they are expected to do more than just sight-seeing. According to Axiom Space, they will take part in more than 25 experiments aboard the station, along with educational outreach.
Connor will take part in research projects in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, as well as providing “instructional lessons” for students at Dayton Early College Academy in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
Pathy will collaborate with the Canadian Space Agency and Montreal Children’s Hospital for research efforts aboard the station.
Stibbe will take part in research efforts with the Ramon Foundation and Israel Space Agency, and take part in educational activities.
“NASA’s partnership with industry through the commercial cargo and crew programs has led our nation to this new era in human spaceflight — one with limitless potential,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Congratulations to Axiom, SpaceX, and the Axiom-1 crew for making this first private mission to the International Space Station a reality.”
Houston-based Axiom Space was founded in 2016 with the ultimate goal of building a “free-flying commercial space station.”
The crew will join the seven current professional astronauts living on the station — three Americans, one German and three Russian cosmonauts.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket being used in the mission flew four previous missions for SpaceX, which has pioneered the reuse of rocket boosters to cut costs of future flights. The Dragon capsule carrying the crew has been used in two previous missions to the Space Station.
After Friday’s launch, SpaceX again recovered the Falcon 9 booster by landing it on a droneship — dubbed “A Shortfall of Gravitas” — floating in the Atlantic Ocean.