The groundbreaking Ax-1 mission has arrived at its off-Earth destination.
A SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying the four Ax-1 mission astronauts docked with the International Space Station (ISS) at 8:29 a.m. EDT (1229 GMT) today (April 9), ending an orbital chase that began Friday morning (April 8) with a launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The docking was delayed about 44 minutes due to a video issue on the station, but everything went smoothly.
"I hope you enjoyed the extra half-orbit in Dragon or at least found it memorable," SpaceX flight controllers said after docking.
"We're happy to be here, even through we're a bit late," Ax-1 mission commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and station commander. "Looking forward to the next chapter. Thanks for all the great work." He and his crew rode SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour to the station.
Ax-1, which was organized by the Houston-based company Axiom Space, is the first-ever fully private crewed mission to the space station. In addition to López-Alegría, the Ax-1crew includes Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe, each of whom reportedly paid around $55 million for the trip.
During the Ax-1 crew's docking approach, cameras on the space station captured stunning views of the spacecraft during an orbital sunrise, as well as with a half moon in the distance.
Space tourists have been to the ISS before, but never like this: All previous paying customers got there aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft commanded by cosmonauts employed by Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency.
López-Alegría disputes the characterization of Connor, Pathy and Stibbe as "space tourists," by the way, stressing that the trio trained hard for the mission and will carry out a variety of meaningful science work during their eight days aboard the ISS.
Earlier Saturday, López-Alegría said the crew hasn't stopped smiling since liftoff.
"I think there are smiles that are still being worn by the crew this morning," López-Alegría said.
The crew spent its first day in space adapting to the weightless environment, and found some surprises.
"I tried to eat a muffin this morning," Connor said. "That did not turn out as expected."
The Ax-1 crewmates didn't enter the orbiting lab right away; the hatches between the Dragon and the ISS didn't open until 10:13 a.m. EDT (1413 GMT) today. The full 11-person crew of the station then held a welcome ceremony for private astronauts in which they were presented with their astronaut pins.
Ax-1 will be just the beginning for Axiom Space, if all goes according to plan. The company has booked several other crewed flights to the ISS with SpaceX, and it aims to begin launching modules to the orbiting lab in late 2024. These modules will eventually detach from the ISS, becoming a free-flying commercial space station in low Earth orbit.
Ax-1 isn't the first all-private crewed orbital mission of any type. That distinction goes to Inspiration4, a four-person flight funded and commanded by tech billionaire Jared Isaacman. He and his crewmates orbited Earth for nearly three days in September 2021 aboard a Dragon capsule, which never met up with the ISS.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:25 a.m. EDT on April 9 with news of hatch opening between Ax-1's Dragon and the ISS.
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.