Returning to Axiom 1: The Houston-based startup’s mission to return to Earth after a week of delays

The first all-private mission to the International Space Station began its return journey Sunday evening after a series of delays caused the mission to be delayed a week longer than expected due to weather and other unfavorable circumstances.

Dubbed AX-1, the mission was brokered by Houston, Texas-based startup Axiom Space, which books rocket rides, provides all necessary training and coordinates flights to the ISS for anyone who can afford it.

The four crew members – Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut-turned-Axiom employee and in command of the mission; Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe; Canadian investor Mark Pathy; and Ohio-based real estate magnate Larry Connor — departed the space station at 9:10 p.m. EST on Sunday aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. But as is often the case on this mission, there was another delay when the capsule took off 15 minutes after the originally scheduled departure time of 8:55 p.m. EST due to minor communication problems with the capsule occupants.

They will spend about a day flying freely through orbit before crashing back into the atmosphere and ejecting for a water landing off the coast of Florida around 1 p.m. ET on Monday.

AX-1, launched on April 8, was originally billed as a 10-day mission, but delays added about a week to the mission.

ORIGINAL STORY: The SpaceX rocket lifts off in a historic launch to deliver an all-private crew to the International Space Station

During their first 12 days on the space station, the group stuck to a regulated schedule that included about 14 hours of activities per day, including scientific research designed by various research hospitals, universities, technology companies, and others. They also spent time conducting outreach events via video conference with children and students.

The weather delays then gave them “a little more time to take in the remarkable views of the blue planet and to review the tremendous amount of work that was successfully completed during the mission,” according to Axiom.

It is not clear how much this mission cost. Axiom previously announced a price of $55 million per seat for a 10-day trip to the ISS, but the company declined to comment on the financial terms of this particular mission, other than giving it at a press conference last year said the price was in the “tens of millions.”

The mission was made possible by very close coordination between Axiom, SpaceX and NASA as the ISS is government funded and operated. And the space agency has shared some details about how much it charges to use its 20-year-old orbiting laboratory.

For each mission, providing the necessary support from NASA astronauts costs commercial customers $5.2 million, and total mission support and planning provided by NASA amounts to an additional $4.8 million. In space, food alone costs an estimated $2,000 per day per person. Getting provisions to and from the space station for a commercial crew costs another $88,000 to $164,000 per person per day.

But the extra days the AX-1 crew spent in space because of the weather don’t add to their overall personal prize, according to a NASA statement.

“Knowing that International Space Station mission objectives, such as the recent Russian spacewalk or weather issues, could result in delayed undocking, NASA negotiated the contract using a strategy that does not require reimbursement for additional undocking delays,” the statement said.

It’s not the first time paying customers or other non-astronauts have visited the ISS, as Russia has sold seats on its Soyuz spacecraft to various wealthy thrill-seekers in recent years.

But AX-1 is the first mission with an all-private crew, with no active members of a government astronaut corps to accompany them in the capsule during the journey to and from the ISS. It is also the first time private individuals have traveled to the ISS on a US-made spacecraft.

The mission has sparked further debate over whether people paying their way into space should be called “astronauts,” although it should be noted that a trip to the ISS requires a far greater investment of time and money than taking one short suborbital ride on a rocket built by companies like Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic.

López-Alegría, a veteran of four space voyages between 1995 and 2007 while at NASA, said: “This mission is very different from what you might see in some recent – particularly suborbital – missions. We are not space tourists. I think space tourism plays an important role, but that’s not what Axiom is about.”

Although paying customers will not receive astronaut wings from the US government, they were presented with the “Universal Astronaut Insignia” – a gold lapel pin recently designed by the Association of Space Explorers, an international group made up of astronauts from 38 countries . López-Alegría presented Stibbe, Pathy, and Connor with their pins during a welcome ceremony after the group arrived on the space station.

The CNN Wire
& 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved. Returning to Axiom 1: The Houston-based startup’s mission to return to Earth after a week of delays

Dais Johnston

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