This week, the first entirely private astronaut team is set for launch to head to the International Space Station.
According to Reuters, the group is scheduled to blast off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, “riding atop a Falcon 9 rocket furnished and flown by Elon Musk’s commercial space launch venture SpaceX.”
The launch was originally set for Wednesday, but an Axiom spokesperson announced Monday that the pushback would give SpaceX more time to finish pre-launch processing tasks.
“If all goes smoothly, the quartet led by retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria would arrive at the space station about 28 hours later as their SpaceX-supplied Crew Dragon capsule docks at ISS some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth,” Reuters added.
The crew of four men include Lopez-Alegria, the mission commander and vice president of business development at Axiom. Joining him will be Larry Connor, a tech and real estate businessman. “Rounding out the Ax-1 team are investor-philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52, both serving as mission specialists,” the outlet added.
Stibbe will be the second Israeli in space, following Ilan Ramon, who died with six NASA crew members in the 2003 Columbia shuttle tragedy.
Lopez-Alegria pointed out that the crew “are not space tourists” at a news briefing, per Reuters. Lopez-Alegria explained that the crew has gone through intense astronaut training with SpaceX and NASA. They will also be conducting biomedical research.
The outlet explained:
The so-called Ax-1 team will be carrying equipment and supplies for 26 science and technology experiments to be conducted before they are slated to leave orbit and return to Earth 10 days after launch. These include research on brain health, cardiac stem cells, cancer and aging as well as a technology demonstration to produce optics using the surface tension of fluids in microgravity, company executives said.
“It is the beginning of many beginnings for commercializing low-Earth orbit,” Axiom’s co-founder and executive chairman, Kam Ghaffarian, told Reuters in an interview. “We’re like in the early days of the internet, and we haven’t even imagined all the possibilities, all the capabilities, that we’re going to be providing in space.”
Space.com reported that “SpaceX rolled the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule that will fly the Ax-1 mission out to Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida” on Tuesday.
SpaceX shared photos of the movement on Twitter.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 5, 2022
Last month, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth after spending 355 days at the International Space Station in a new United States record.
As The Daily Wire reported, Vande Hei came back in a Russian capsule, landing in Kazakhstan, after his journey. He returned with Russian Space Agency’s Pyotr Dubrov, who spent the past year in space as well, and Anton Shkaplerov.
Russia and the United States work together in space and “NASA has said it cannot operate the station without the Russians, which provide the propulsion that allows the ISS to keep its orbit and maneuver when needed. Russia needs NASA, as well, as the space agency provides power to the Russian segment of the station,” per The Washington Post.
Before leaving the space station, Shkaplerov called his fellow astronauts “my space brothers and space sister.”
“People have problem on Earth. On orbit … we are one crew,” Shkaplerov reportedly said in a live NASA TV broadcast. The space station is a symbol of “friendship and cooperation and … future of exploration of space.”