The private Ax-1 astronaut mission will now depart the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday night (April 23), if all goes according to plan.
The four-person Ax-1 was originally supposed to leave on Tuesday (April 19) after a 10-day stay aboard the orbiting lab. But forecasts of bad weather in the mission's splashdown zone off the coast of Florida nixed that plan, forcing mission team members to reassess.
It's taken a few days, but a new schedule is now in place: Ax-1's SpaceX Dragon capsule will undock from the ISS on Saturday at 8:35 p.m. EDT (0035 GMT on April 24) and splash down on Sunday (April 24) at about 1:46 p.m. EDT (1746 GMT), weather permitting, NASA officials said.
"The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely," agency officials wrote in an update on Wednesday night (April 20).
"Teams will continue to monitor weather at the splashdown sites prior to undocking to ensure conditions are acceptable for a safe recovery of the Ax-1 astronauts and Dragon spacecraft," they added, stressing that there are enough supplies to support the Ax-1 crewmembers and the other seven astronauts currently aboard the station.
Ax-1 was organized by the Houston company Axiom Space and is being flown by SpaceX. The mission is commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who now serves as Axiom's vice president of business development. The other three crewmembers are paying customers — American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe.
The new Ax-1 departure plan affects another SpaceX mission — Crew-4, which will deliver three NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency spaceflyer to the ISS for a lengthy stay. Crew-4 had been slated to launch on Saturday, but that's not in the cards anymore; the mission will use the ISS docking port currently occupied by Ax-1, and NASA officials have said they want to leave a two-day window between Ax-1's splashdown and Crew-4's liftoff, to allow for data analysis and other preparations.
"The earliest potential launch opportunity for the Crew-4 mission is 4:15 a.m. [EDT] Tuesday, April 26, with additional opportunities Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28," NASA officials wrote in Wednesday's update. "These launch opportunities are undergoing a more detailed program review to ensure they align with integrated operational timelines."
You can follow all of these activities — Ax-1's undocking and return to Earth, and Crew-4's launch and journey to the ISS — here at Space.com when the time comes.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.