CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The first all-private crewed mission to the International Space Station is ready to fly, mission leaders announced today (April 7).
Tomorrow (April 8), a crew of four, led by a former NASA astronaut, is set to launch on a 10-day mission to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Their mission is Ax-1, the first crewed flight for Texas-based aerospace company Axiom Space.
"This is a historic event, and we're super happy to be here to report our readiness and willingness to move forward with a launch tomorrow," Angela Hart, NASA's Commercial LEO (low Earth orbit) Program Manager, said during a pre-launch news conference today.
Ax-1 is set to launch at 11:17 a.m. EDT (1517 GMT) from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center here on Florida's Space Coast. You can watch live here at Space.com or directly via SpaceX's YouTube page; the live broadcast will begin at about 7:55 a.m. EDT (1155 GMT).
Live updates: Ax-1 private mission to space station
Former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee Michael López-Alegría will command the Ax-1 mission. He'll be joined by three paying customers: pilot Larry Connor and mission specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy. The quartet will embark tomorrow on a 10-day mission that will include eight days aboard the International Space Station.
Ax-1 is set to dock with the space station's node 2 zenith port on Saturday (April 9).
While storms have waxed and waned around the Space Coast today, the weather is expected to improve ahead of tomorrow's launch, Brian Cizek, a launch weather officer with the U.S. Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron, said during today's briefing.
"The good news is that the weather tomorrow and through the weekend will be a lot better than the weather that we saw today," Cizek said. While there were some thunderstorms today, "high pressure will be rolling in tomorrow and through the weekend and looking a lot better weather-wise here at Kennedy Space Center," he added.
There are still some lingering concerns about the wind, but there is only a 10% probability that weather constraints will be violated at the planned launch time tomorrow.
Ax-1 is a private astronaut mission, but team members have stressed that it is not a "space tourism" flight or an elaborate joyride of any kind. As the mission team has shared, the crew has trained extensively for Ax-1. They've practiced how to conduct personal-hygiene and other everyday activities in space as well as emergency procedures aboard the station, maintenance and repair activities, outreach and documentation and scientific experimentation. The crew has shared that they are bringing over 25 different scientific experiments to work on during their eight-day station stay.
"They want to be the best possible private astronauts that you can imagine, and they've trained in that way," Derek Hassmann, the operations director at Axiom Space, told Space.com during the news briefing. "They're very well prepared, they understand where they fit in the big scheme of things. They want to be good houseguests, if you will."
Hassmann added that López-Alegría's extensive experience as a NASA astronaut and as commander of the space station will allow him to guide his crewmates and support them in minimizing "disruptions" to the station's existing crew.
"Our goal going into this was really to set the bar very high and demonstrate to everybody involved in the world that this is a realistic thing to go do — that they can be positive that it can be impactful," Hassmann added.
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Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.