Miami, Apr 8 (EFE).- Excitement gripped participants and observers Friday as Axiom Space’s Ax-1 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the first private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule blasted off at 11:17 am lifted off with a crew of four led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who spoke for many when he called it a “historic moment.”
The staff of Mission Control and the many invited guests watching them work from behind glass burst into applause as the Falcon 9’s engines fired.
Images from the camera inside the capsule showed what appeared to be a plush rabbit floating in zero gravity, but Axiom Space said later that the plush toy was a dog, Caramel, that serves as the mascot of the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation.
It is common to bring along a small item to serve as a zero-gravity indicator and in this case, Axiom said, Caramel was selected because of a connection with crew member Mark Pathy, a Canadian businessman who funds research at Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Accompanying the Spanish-born Lopez-Alegria, now vice president of Axiom Space, and Pathy on the mission are US businessman Larry Connor and Israeli entrepreneur Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot.
Though Stibbe, Connor, and Pathy each paid a reported $55 million to be part of Ax-1, Axiom has been at pains to insist that the mission is not space tourism.
The three paying travelers have undergone intensive training and are “very well prepared” to conduct research, observations, and demonstrations during their stay aboard the ISS, Axiom Space operations director Derek Hassmann said Thursday.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lopez-Alegria said as the Endeavor entered Earth orbit. “It was a hell of a ride and we’re really looking forward to the next 10 days.”
The capsule is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 7:45 am (1145 GMT) Saturday.
Hassmann said that the Ax-1 mission is crucial to Texas-based Axiom’s ambition to complete a commercial space station alongside the ISS by 2030. EFE emi/dr