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SpaceX, NASA delay launch of private Ax-1 astronaut mission to April 8

The crew of Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission pose for a photo inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft while training. They are: (from left) Mark Pathy; Larry Connor; Michael López-Alegría; and Eytan Stibbe.
The crew of Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission pose for a photo inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft while training. They are: (from left) Mark Pathy; Larry Connor; Michael López-Alegría; and Eytan Stibbe. (Image credit: SpaceX/Axiom Space)

SpaceX's launch of the first all-private mission to the International Space Station has been delayed by two days and will now lift off no earlier than Friday (April 8), SpaceX and the mission's backer Axiom Space announced late Sunday.

The Ax-1 mission will fly four civilians, including former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, for a 10-day mission to the International Space Station. It was set to launch on Wednesday (April 6) from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Texas-based Axiom Space, which plans to operate its own space stations in the future, didn't give a reason for the delay, but it is likely due to NASA's own delay of a critical fueling test of its Artemis 1 moon rocket at the nearby Pad 39B. That test, originally set for Sunday, was delayed to today (April 4) due to ground equipment safety issues, creating a ripple effect of delays.

The Ax-1 mission's liftoff is now scheduled for Friday at 11:17 a.m. EDT (1517 GMT). If all goes to plan, SpaceX's Crew Dragon  capsule with the crew will reach the space station on Saturday (April 9) at 7:30 a.m EDT  (1130 GMT), Axiom Space said in a statement.

"Axiom Space's Axiom mission 1 is now targeting launch no earlier than Friday, April 8," the company said. "Late last week, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft arrived in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it has since been mated with the Falcon 9 rocket. The team is continuing with pre-launch processing work in the hangar ahead of vehicle rollout on Tuesday, April 5."

Related: Axiom Space: Building the off-Earth economy

The company added that the rocket's dry-run test is now expected to take place on Wednesday (April 6), followed by an integrated static fire test on the same day. The four Ax-1 spacefarers, in the meantime, continue their prelaunch quarantine in Florida, the company said.

The four private astronauts include Michael López-Alegría as commander; real-estate magnate and acrobatic pilot Larry Connor as pilot; and music and sustainability entrepreneur Mark Pathy, and investor and former Israel Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe as mission specialists. They will join the current Russian-U.S.-European space station crew at a tense time when the future of the three-decade-long partnership is uncertain. 

On Saturday (April 2), the head of Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin decried sanctions imposed by western countries on Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. In a Twitter post, he said that "the restoration of normal relations between partners in the International Space Station and other joint projects is possible only with the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions." 

The International Space Station, conceived in the 1990s to celebrate the new era of post-Cold-War cooperation between the formal rivalling blocks, has so far operated completely protected from geo-political upheavals on Earth. It survived Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, as well as the annexation of the formerly Ukrainian Crimea in 2014 (in the same year, a group of space professionals even attempted to nominate the ISS partnership for the Nobel Peace Prize). The war in Ukraine, where Russia stands accused of crimes of genocide, however, casts doubts over the partnership's future. 

There are seven professional astronauts on the space station right now: Three American astronauts (Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Thomas Marshburn), German astronaut Matthias Maurer and three Russian cosmonauts (Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev).

The three westerners, part of the SpaceX Crew-3 mission, will be replaced later this month by SpaceX Crew-4 spacefarers NASA's Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, along withItalian Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency

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Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.