Miami, Apr 25 (EFE).- The four astronauts with the Ax-1 mission, the first completely private, commercial orbital flight to the International Space Station, returned safely to Earth on Monday aboard the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour capsule.
As scheduled, after its fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the Dragon capsule made a controlled parachute descent into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast at Jacksonville, Florida, at 1:12 pm where several Space X vessels were on hand to recover it and help the crew to exit.
Before departing from the ISS on Sunday, mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, who during his past career as a NASA astronaut had made several trips into space, told the Houston control center by radio that it had been “longer and more exciting than we thought.”
The four-man crew’s return to Earth had been postponed for several days due to bad weather at the landing zone, during which time they remained aboard the ISS in orbit some 250 miles high. Once they were able to undock from the ISS, the journey back to terra firma took about 16 hours.
The mission – a joint endeavour by Houston-based startup company Axiom Space and SpaceX, owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk – was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast on April 8 and the crew spent two weeks at the ISS with the crew of the orbital platform, which currently includes three US astronauts, a German and three Russian cosmonauts.
The Ax-1 crew was led by 63-year-old Spanish-born retired NASA astronaut Lopez-Alegria, who is also Axiom’s vice president for business development. Second in command was mission pilot Larry Connor, 72, a tech entrepreneur and aviator, and the two mission specialists were investor-philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and 52-year-old Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy,
Connor, Stibbe and Pathy each reportedly paid Axiom Space $55 million to be included on the space flight.
Images provided by Axiom Space showed the moment that the space capsule made its dramatic and meteor-like reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the splashdown and the approach of the recovery vessels.
Axiom Space is planning to send other similar missions to the ISS and to build the first private low-orbital platform by the end of this decade with the aim of making it an academic and commercial center.
The four crewmembers of the Ax-1 mission said before they lifted off on April 8 that they were not space “tourists” and, in fact, they performed scientific experiments and carried out educational programs for public consumption while in space.
The next space mission – this one a joint operation by NASA and SpaceX using a Dragon Freedom capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket – is scheduled to lift off for the ISS on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral with a four-person crew.