SpaceX: successful launch of the first private mission to the ISS

The first private mission took off to the International Space Station. Three businessmen and a former NASA astronaut boarded a SpaceX rocket on Friday, April 8, for this first all-private mission. They will be there for a little over a week. Liftoff took place at 11:17 local time (15:17 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center under blue skies in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Newbies have already visited the space station (ISS), especially in the 2000s. Last year, Russia sent a film crew there, then a Japanese billionaire. But these flew aboard Soyuz rockets, accompanied by cosmonauts. This time it was the company Axiom Space that organized the trip, in collaboration with SpaceX and NASA, paid for the use of its station.

“We are expanding the national borders of commerce into space,” said Bill Nelson, the head of the US space agency, shortly before takeoff. The head of the mission, named Ax-1, is American-Spanish Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former astronaut from the US space agency who has already visited the ISS. The other three crew members paid tens of millions of dollars each for the experiment. The role of pilot is played by American Larry Connor, head of a real estate company.

On board: Canadian Mark Pathy, owner of an investment company, and ex-pilot Eytan Stibbe, co-founder of an investment fund. The latter is the second Israeli astronaut in history after Ilan Ramon, who died in 2003 in the explosion of the American space shuttle Columbia when returning from the ISS. “He was a good friend,” Mr Stibbe said at a news conference last week. “I want to continue an experiment he started 19 years ago, focusing on observing storms,” ​​he said.


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More planned trials

The four men have a busy program of about 25 experiments on aging, heart health or even stem cells. “The experiments that I take up there, which come from Canadian universities and research institutions, probably would not have had the opportunity to be tested in space” without this mission, argued Mark Pathy. Among other reasons, the members of Ax-1 refuse to be called space tourists. “I think it’s important to distinguish space tourists from private astronauts,” said Larry Connor. The first “spend 10 to 15 hours on training, five to 10 minutes in space. (…) We spent between 750 and more than 1,000 hours on training.

“He and Michael Lopez-Alegria were trained in the SpaceX Dragon capsule system. And they all learned how to react in case of an emergency on the station. washing in weightlessness. However, their training is less advanced than the training of professional astronauts, who must be able to perform spacewalks or even repair equipment.The members of Ax-1 “will use the toilets, but if they break, our crew will fix them,” Nasa official Dana Weigel said Thursday.


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Sixth human flight for SpaceX

The Dragon capsule is due to dock with the ISS on Saturday around 7:30 (11:30 GMT). On arrival, the crew will receive a guided tour of the station and then go to work. This is only the sixth time SpaceX has flown humans (the fifth to the ISS). The first flight took place less than two years ago. Axiom Space has entered into an agreement for a total of four missions with SpaceX, and NASA has already formally approved the principle of another, Ax-2. For Axiom Space, this is a first step towards an ambitious goal: the construction of its own. space station.

“It’s important for us to be able to repeat ‘such missions’ on a smaller scale,” said company boss Michael Suffredini. The first module of this private station should be launched in September 2024. The structure will first be attached to the ISS before becoming independent when the latter is retired, a priori around 2030. This low-orbit privatization movement is encouraged by NASA, which wants to generate revenue through these private missions, and in the long term would no longer have to manage the operation of a station, but instead hire the services of private structures, to focus on distant exploration.


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