The world’s first all-private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) departed at 9:10 p.m. EDT last night and is expected to splash down around 1:00 pm today off the Florida coast.
The Ax-1 mission, which was transported in the SpaceX Dragon capsule called Endeavour, has four passengers, including three individuals paying about $55 million each for the experience and mission commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who is now the vice president of business development at Axiom Space, which coordinated the mission.
“Thanks once again for all the support through this amazing adventure that we’ve had,” López-Alegría messaged NASA’s mission control after undocking. “Even longer and more exciting than we thought. We really appreciate your professionalism, and with that we’ll sign off.”
The launch took place on April 8 and the crew reached the ISS a day later. The undocking to return to Earth was originally scheduled to take place April 19, but severe weather in the splashdown zone delayed the return.
That did not seem to bother the crew members, consisting of Canadian Mark Pathy, Ohio businessman Larry Conner and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, who enjoyed the extra time on the ISS. These three businessmen are not the first space tourists to visit the ISS—there have been eight others beginning with Dennis Tito in 2001, who paid $20 million for the trip.
They are also not the first all-private mission to space. The four-day orbital SpaceX/Inspiration4 mission took place in September, 2021.
Houston-based Axiom says it has several more private missions planned to the ISS as well as building the first private space station in low-Earth orbit by the end of this decade. The company said it will serve as an a “global academic and commercial hub.”
The Ax-1 crew conducted work for more than 25 research projects with partners that ranged from the Mayo Clinic, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, and the Ramon Foundation. They also worked on self-assembling technology for future space habitats.
López-Alegría told CBS News that the sheer amount of activities involved in the research kept the team moving at an “all-out sprint” during their stay. “But the guys are doing great, everybody loves microgravity,” he said on April 15. “I mean, you can imagine, it’s a ton of fun. And I think the only surprise is just how hard we’re all working.” Live coverage of the splashdown begins at 12:00 pm EDT on Axiom Space.