The first private space mission to the International Station successfully returns to Earth

The first private space mission to the International Station successfully returns to Earth

The four astronauts, including the Spaniard Miguel López-Alegría, splashed down near Florida. The Ax-1 private mission departs back to Earth from the International Space Station .
The four astronauts, including the Spaniard Miguel López-Alegría, splashed down near Florida. The Ax-1 private mission departs back to Earth from the International Space Station .

The Dragon capsule of the Axiom 1 (Ax-1) mission, the first entirely private capsule to reach the International Space Station (ISS), successfully splashed down this Monday in waters off the northeast coast of Florida ( USA ), thus concluding the 17-day voyage of four astronauts from the Axiom company.

As planned, the Dragon Endeavor capsule, aided by the deployment of four parachutes, fell in a controlled manner in Atlantic waters near Jacksonville, on the northeast coast of Florida, at 1:12 p.m. local time in Miami (5:12 p.m. GMT) and several boats from the private company SpaceX came to pick it up.

Images from Axiom Space and SpaceX showed the moment of the optimal entry of the capsule into the Earth’s atmosphere, the smooth splashdown and the immediate approach of the boats and the recovery ship of the capsule, which was hoisted aboard a boat with the crew inside.

“Welcome back to Earth. We hope you enjoyed the ride.” These were some of the words addressed to the crew by the control room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A long burst of applause was heard in the control room at the moment the parachute opening system was successfully activated (at 1:09 p.m.), already in the Earth’s atmosphere, and when the capsule fell into coastal waters floridana under a totally clear sky.

“A Long and Fascinating Adventure”

Once the aircraft was hoisted with cranes and deposited on the deck of the ship, SpaceX firm operators proceeded to open the sealing of the access hatch to the interior of the capsule, whose surface showed large marks due to friction with the Earth’s atmosphere .

At 1:53 p.m. local time, when the hatch was open, the four astronauts greeted with a smile and raised their thumbs in approval of what had been done.

Shortly after, one by one, with difficulty walking, the four civilians were leaving the capsule helped by personnel from the SpaceX team.

Before leaving the ISS, the mission commander, the Hispanic-American Miguel López-Alegría , who was previously part of NASA and made several space trips with the US agency, told the control center in Houston by radio that he had been a “longer and more fascinating” adventure than they thought.

Along with him, businessmen Larry Connor (from the US), Mark Pathy (from Canada) and Eytan Stibbe (from Israel) participated in this mission, who, according to US media, paid 55 million dollars each to the company Axiom Space, responsible and organizer of the trip.

more missions

Axiom Space intends to send other similar missions to the ISS and build the first private station in low Earth orbit by the end of this decade, with the aim of becoming a “global academic and commercial center”, according to its website. .

Members of the Ax-1 mission said before departing for the ISS on April 8 that they were not space tourists and, in fact, conducted scientific experiments and educational and public outreach programs at the space laboratory.

It is a crew that has received intensive training as astronauts, “well prepared, in high spirits and ready to go to the ISS and with great enthusiasm for launch”, as Derek Hassmann, director of operations, recently told a conference. by Axiom Space.

delays

The trip back to Earth had to be postponed on several occasions – the last one last Saturday for 24 hours – due to the adverse weather conditions prevailing in the landing zone.

The departure of the Dragon Endeavor spacecraft from the ISS makes possible the trip, several times overdue, of another manned mission, Crew-4, to the space laboratory.

In principle, the launch from Cape Canaveral of the rocket with the Dragon Freedom ship is scheduled for this Wednesday, April 27.

Crew-4 is one of the astronaut transport missions to the ISS carried out by the private company SpaceX for NASA since 2020, when the first flight from US territory to the laboratory was made since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

Commander Kjell Lindgren, pilot Robert Hines and specialist Jessica Watkins, all three from NASA, will travel on this occasion, as well as Italian specialist Samantha Cristoforetti, from the European Space Agency.

Bruce Dorminey
I'm a science journalist and host of Cosmic Controversy (brucedorminey.podbean.com) as well as author of "Distant Wanderers: the Search for Planets Beyond the Solar System."  I primarily cover aerospace and astronomy. I’m a former Hong Kong bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and former Paris-based technology correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper who has reported from six continents. A 1998 winner in the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards (AJOYA), I’ve interviewed Nobel Prize winners and written about everything from potato blight to dark energy. Previously, I was a film and arts correspondent in New York and Europe, primarily for newspaper outlets like the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe and Canada's Globe & Mail. Recently, I've contributed to Scientific American.com, Nature News, Physics World, and Yale Environment 360.com. I'm a current contributor to Astronomy and Sky & Telescope and a correspondent for Renewable Energy World. Twitter @bdorminey