Axiom Space, a commercial aerospace company based in Houston, Texas, plans to launch humans to space for the first time next Wednesday (April 6).
The company's first crewed mission to space, called Ax-1, passed its flight readiness review on March 25. The Axiom Space mission, which will send a crew of spaceflyers to the International Space Station, is set to launch April 6 after a brief delay that will accommodate a critical test of NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket on a nearby pad.
Ax-1 will launch from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where SpaceX launches its astronaut missions for NASA on Crew Dragon spacecraft. As is typical for crewed SpaceX missions, Ax-1 will launch to orbit with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, complete with a reusable first stage. Liftoff is set for 12:05 p.m. EDT (1605 GMT). You'll be able to watch the launch live courtesy of Axiom Space, SpaceX and NASA via Space.com's Ax-1 launch webcast guide.
The mission's participants, aside from Ax-1 commander, retired NASA astronaut and current Axiom vice president of business development Michael López-Alegría, paid for their seats. While it is a private mission, Ax-1 will feature roughly 100 hours of research on behalf of numerous organizations.
"We are opening a new era in human spaceflight," López-Alegría said in a Twitter post Friday (April 1). "We are taking the first step in a next generation platform initiative that's going to bring working, living, and research in space to a much broader and more international audience."
Axiom plans to launch a module that will be added to the space station in 2024, one step towards eventually making a commercial space station.
Here are the four people slated to fly on the 10-day Ax-1 mission, which includes eight days on the ISS:
Michael López-Alegría, commander for Ax-1, is a former NASA astronaut of three space shuttle missions and the commander of ISS Expedition 14 on his fourth, during which he flew on a Russian Soyuz. As of this writing, López-Alegría holds the record for the most spacewalks performed, 10, and the most accumulated time in a spacesuit: 67 hours and 40 minutes. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2020 and serves on several aerospace advisory boards.
"Being away from NASA for 10 years and sharing these experiences with new friends and colleagues has given me a greater appreciation for just how special that was," López-Alegría wrote on Twitter. "To be able to experience it one more time is almost like waking up and then going back into a dream."
Larry Connor, pilot for Ax-1, has flown 16 different aircraft including fighter jets. Connor is also familiar with piloting helicopters and race car driving. He has won five aerobatic competitions and participated in several U.S. National Aerobatic Championships. He runs the real estate investment company The Connor Group, which focuses on luxury apartment communities. Connor's previous ventures include founding The Connor Group Kids & Community Partners, which was made with the aim to address generational poverty.
"I think I speak for all of us that we understand this first civilian mission is a big honor and a big opportunity," Connor said in a press conference on Friday. "But with that comes a big responsibility — that is, to execute the mission correctly and successfully."
Mark Pathy, mission specialist for Ax-1, is the CEO and chair of the sustainable investment company MARVIK of Montreal, Canada. He is also chair of the board of Stingray Group Inc., a music, media and technology company. Pathy is also on the board of the Pathy Family Foundation, among other charitable groups such as the Montreal Children's Hospital, for whom he will do research in orbit.
Pathy said he's already had an amazing experience so far. "It has already been life changing for me, and we haven't even launched yet, so .. really excited about what's still to come," he said in a Friday press conference.
Eytan Stibbe, mission specialist for Ax-1, is the founding partner of the Vital Capital impact investment fund, among other ventures. He was previously a fighter pilot for the Israel Air Force (IAF) and flight instructor at the Israel Air Force Flight Academy. Stibbe was close friends with fellow pilot and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died during the Columbia space shuttle accident of 2003. Stibbe and the Ramon family co-founded the Ramon Foundation; Stibbe will perform experiments for the foundation in orbit.
"To be a part of this unique crew is a proof from me that there is no dream beyond reach," Stibbe said in Friday's press conference. " That is the motto of my mission in space."