Four members of a private space mission return to Earth

published on Monday, April 25, 2022 at 11:44 p.m.

Three businessmen, accompanied by a former NASA astronaut, landed in Florida on Monday aboard a SpaceX spacecraft, after spending more than two weeks on the International Space Station.

The capsule landed in the Atlantic Ocean at 1:06 pm local time (5:06 pm GMT). Its fierce descent is slowed down by its entry into the atmosphere, then by large parachutes.

“To everyone who supports us around the world, you’ve done an amazing job, it’s been an amazing mission,” said American Larry Connor, one of the passengers, from the capsule that was still thrown into the sea.

The craft was then lifted aboard a SpaceX ship. The four passengers exited individually, their steps unsteady due to the time it took to re-acclimate to gravity.

Named Ax-1, this mission is the first completely private mission on the International Space Station (ISS). The American company Axiom Space purchased the means of transportation from SpaceX, and paid NASA for the use of its station.

“A lot of people are looking at this mission to see if it’s practical,” Derek Hassmann, chief operating officer for Axiom Space, told a news conference. “Can you train them in a short time? Prepare them for a mission that will have little impact on the ISS crew? I think we’ve proven that possible.”

The four men-three clients paying ten million dollars each, and former Hispanic-American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria-left on April 8 from Florida. They arrived at the ISS the next day, where they spent only eight days.

But their return had to be postponed several times due to bad weather conditions. So they finally spent 15 days on the ISS, and 17 in orbit. No additional cost is charged.

Larry Connor, head of a real estate company, Canadian Mark Pathy, boss of an investment firm, and ex-Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe, co-founder of an investment fund, refuses to be considered “space tourists”.

They actually conducted, they reasoned, a whole series of experiments aboard the ISS, along with research centers. This work focuses on aging and heart health.

They will also spend the next few days in Orlando, where data on their health status will be collected. The aim was to study the impact of space stays on the human body, by comparing it with data collected before their trip.

– New missions coming soon –

Monday was the fifth landing of a human Dragon capsule. SpaceX now regularly brings NASA astronauts to the ISS.

Seven people now remain at the Station: three Americans and a German who arrived thanks to a SpaceX ship (a crew called Crew-3), as well as three Russians traveling aboard a Soyuz rocket.

All with in the coming days four more astronauts (three American and one Italian), Crew-4. When the surrender is complete, Crew-3 will instead descend back to Earth.

Elon Musk’s company also conducted another completely private mission last year (Inspiration4), but it didn’t go to the Space Station, the four passengers only remained in the capsule for three days.

Newcomers have already visited the ISS, especially in 2000. But they flew aboard the Soyuz, accompanied by exercise cosmonauts. Last year, Russia continued this kind of travel, sending a film crew, then a Japanese billionaire.

NASA for its part is clearly urging this movement to privatize lower orbit. On the one hand, it wants to generate revenue through these private missions-one second, the Ax-2, has already been approved, and should happen in about a year.

But most of all, after the retirement of the ISS around 2030, NASA no longer wants to oversee the operation of a space station itself, and pass the torch on to private companies. The American agency will only hire its services to send astronauts there, and thus concentrate on remote exploration.

Axiom Space is one of the most advanced companies to position itself in this area: it wants to launch the first module from its own station in 2024.

The structure was first attached to the ISS, before becoming autonomous to replace it.

The experience gathered thanks to Ax-1 thus represents an important first step, according to Axiom Space leaders, intended to lay the groundwork for many missions to come.

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