The four members have returned on a special space mission to Earth

Posted on Monday, April 25, 2022 at 11:44 pm

Three businessmen, accompanied by a former NASA astronaut, landed off 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 rotating descent was slowed by re-entry into the atmosphere, then by massive parachutes.

“To all those who have supported us around the world, you’ve done an incredible job, it’s been an amazing job,” American Larry Connor, a passenger, said of the capsule the sea was still throwing away.

The vehicle was then lifted onto the SpaceX ship. The four passengers disembarked one by one, the stride being unsteady due to the time required to re-acclimatise to gravity.

Dubbed Ax-1, this mission was the first entirely private mission to the International Space Station (ISS). US company Axiom Space bought transportation from SpaceX, and paid NASA to use its station.

“A lot of people were looking at this mission just to see if it was practical,” Derek Hassmann, chief operating officer of Axiom Space, said at a press conference. “Can you train them in a short amount of time? Get them ready for a mission that has minimal impact on the ISS crew? I think we’ve proven that’s possible.”

The four men — three clients who each paid tens of millions of dollars, and former Hispanic American astronaut Michael Lopez Alegria — blasted off on April 8 from Florida. They arrived at the International Space Station the next day, where they were originally only supposed to spend eight days.

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But their return has been postponed several times due to bad weather. And so they finally spent 15 days on the International Space Station and 17 days in orbit. No additional cost is charged.

Larry Connor, president of a real estate company, Canadian Mark Pathy, president of an investment company, and former Israeli pilot Eitan Stipe, co-founder of an investment fund, refuse to consider them “space tourists.”

They have already conducted, as they say, a whole series of experiments aboard the International Space Station, in partnership with research centers. This work focused on aging and heart health.

They will also spend the next few days in Orlando, where data on their health will be collected. The goal is to study the effect of staying in space on the human body, by comparing it with data collected before their flight.

– New missions coming soon –

Monday was the fifth landing of the manned dragon capsule. SpaceX now regularly transports NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

Seven people are still aboard the station at the moment: three Americans and a German who came thanks to the SpaceX ship (a crew called Crew-3), as well as three Russians who traveled on a Soyuz rocket.

They will all be joined in the coming days by four more astronauts (three Americans and one Italian), Crew-4. Once the delivery is complete, the Crew-3 will in turn descend to Earth.

Elon Musk also carried out another completely special mission last year (Inspiration4), but this mission did not go to the space station, the four passengers remained in the capsule for three days.

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Beginners have already visited the International Space Station, especially in the 2000s, but they flew on the Soyuz ship, accompanied by astronauts in the exercises. Last year, Russia resumed this type of travel, sending a camera crew, and then a Japanese billionaire.

NASA, for its part, clearly encourages this move to privatize low orbit. On the other hand, you want to generate income with these special missions – a second assignment, Ax-2, has already been approved, and should be done in about a year.

But above all, after the ISS retired around 2030, NASA no longer wanted to manage the operation of a space station itself, passing the torch to private companies. The US agency will then simply employ its services to send its astronauts there, so it can focus on distant exploration.

Axiom Space is one of the most forward-looking companies in this field: it wants to launch the first unit of its own station in 2024.

The structure will first be attached to the International Space Station, before becoming independent to take over.

The experience accumulated thanks to the Ax-1 represents a crucial first step, according to Axiom Space leaders, aimed at laying the groundwork for many upcoming missions.

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