Axiom Space astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe, and Mark Pathy have safely returned to Earth, marking the end of the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) – the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, carrying the crew of four and more than 200 pounds of science and supplies, including NASA experiments and hardware, undocked from the space station at 9:10 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 24. About 16 hours later, the vehicle splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.
“The success of this first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station is an important step in opening opportunities for space travelers and achieving NASA’s goal of enabling commercial business off the planet in low-Earth orbit,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This progress has been made possible by NASA’s work with private industry – especially the Commercial Crew Program. I’m incredibly proud of the NASA, SpaceX, and Axiom teams for safely completing this landmark mission. Welcome home, Ax-1!”
The crew spent 15 days in orbit, conducting a variety of science experiments and technology demonstrations. A few highlights include research on cancer cell growth, a demonstration testing a new air purifier for station use, and a study utilizing swarms of autonomous tiles for future applications of in-space construction.
Following splashdown, teams will retrieve science aboard the Dragon spacecraft and transport it to nearby Kennedy Space Center for further investigation. Kennedy’s proximity to the coast allows researchers to study their experiments mere hours after their return to Earth, while the effects of microgravity are still largely intact.
NASA is partnering with commercial companies to establish a robust low-Earth orbit economy – one where government and private astronauts live and work aboard the space station and future commercial habitats. NASA recently selected Axiom Space to negotiate for a second private astronaut mission to the orbiting laboratory and plans to announce a third flight opportunity later this year.