The first wholly privately funded and crewed mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center on Friday. You can watch the action live right here.
The all-civilian crew will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a 10-day mission in low Earth orbit, of which eight days will be spent aboard the International Space Station. Managed by Axiom Space, the Ax-1 mission is an important next step in the ongoing commercialization of space and another sign that government space agencies are taking a back seat when it comes to working in low Earth orbit (LEO).
But we’re not there just quite yet. NASA is inextricably involved in this project, as the space agency, in addition to providing the launch site—Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida—is a key ISS partner. The orbital outpost, though aging, remains the only viable venue from which private citizens can conduct experiments and tests in low Earth orbit.
Launch of Ax-1 is scheduled for 11:17 a.m. EDT (8:17 a.m. PDT). Live coverage will be available at the Axiom website and NASA TV. More conveniently, you can catch the action at the feed above. The coverage is expected to begin at 10:15 a.m. EDT (7:15 a.m. PDT).
Weather officials are currently predicting a 90% chance of favorable weather for launch on Friday and an 80% chance on Saturday, should the launch have to be delayed.
Strapped into the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will be commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and a VP of Axiom Space, pilot Larry Connor, and mission specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.
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Speaking to reporters at a pre-launch press conference on Thursday, Derek Hassmann, Axiom operations director, said the “crew is in great spirits and ready to go.” Angela Hart, commercial low Earth orbit program manager at NASA, said “this mission really represents a significant milestone in our plans to develop a LEO commercial economy.” Added Benjamin Reed, senior director for human spaceflight programs at SpaceX: “It’s all part of making humans a space-faring civilization.”
A priority of the mission is to set the stage for the construction of Axiom’s space station, which could begin as early as next year. The station will initially be attached to the Harmony node of the ISS, but the ultimate goal is have the station freely orbiting around Earth by 2030.
The crew has undergone extensive training to ensure astronaut safety and mission efficacy, making this project unlike others involving private citizens, Dana Weigel, NASA’s International Space Station deputy program manager, told reporters on Thursday.
“Our guys aren’t going up there to float around for eight days taking pictures and looking out of the cupola,” said Hassmann, saying it would be mistake to refer to the Ax-1 crew as space tourists. “We have a very intensive and research-oriented timeline prepared for them and…we think they’re going to be very busy.” Indeed, the crew, in addition to setting the groundwork for Axiom’s space station, will be running medical and health experiments having to do with aging, cancer, stem cells, and brain health.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About the First Private Mission to the International Space Station.
As for the rendezvous, docking, hatch opening, and welcoming ceremony, that’s slated to begin on Saturday, April 9 at 6:45 a.m. EDT (3:45 a.m. PDT), but that assumes the launch happens on time. That coverage at NASA TV will begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT (2:30 a.m. PDT). For the return trip, the Ax-1 Crew Dragon is scheduled to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, April 16 at roughly 10:00 p.m. EDT (7:00 p.m. PDT).
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