Four civilians will be launched Friday to the International Space Station (ISS) on what will be the first-ever fully private mission to the orbiting laboratory.
Called Axiom Mission 1 or Ax-1, the mission will see four people — none of whom are currently professional astronauts — launch into space in a capsule attached to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The crew includes Michael López-Alegría, a Spanish-American former NASA astronaut who has gone to space four times before and will serve as mission commander; Larry Connor, an American entrepreneur who will be the mission pilot; Mark Pathy, a Canadian entrepreneur and investor who will be a mission specialist; and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli former fighter pilot and current investor who will also be a mission specialist.
Ax-1 is expected to launch on Friday morning, April 8, as the SpaceX rocket carrying the four astronauts is expected to lift off at 11:17 a.m. ET from launch complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Live coverage will be a joint effort of Axiom, NASA and SpaceX. It starts at 7:50 AM this morning and will follow the astronauts as they enter their space capsule before launching. Coverage is expected to end at approximately 11:30 a.m. ET.
There will also be a broadcast when the astronauts dock at the ISS on April 9. This is expected to begin around 5:30 a.m. ET that morning.
The four men are expected to spend a total of eight days on the ISS with an additional two days of travel to and from the ISS. On board, they are expected to conduct scientific research, as well as “outreach and commercial activities,” according to NASA.
The mission has not come cheap for the future private astronauts, costing them $55 million each, according to The Verge. This includes the use of the ISS’s life support systems, supplies and power.
Axiom is a private space company founded in 2016 that aims to build the world’s first commercial space station. It was co-founded by Michael Suffredini, who was program manager of NASA’s International Space Station from 2005 to 2015.
Ax-1 will be the company’s first mission. It already has more planned with Ax-2 expected to fly in early 2023.
Axiom aims to play an increasingly prominent role in the functioning of the ISS in the coming years. In 2020, NASA awarded the company $140 million to help it add a new module to the space station that would be commercial and habitable.
Over time, Axiom hopes to create multiple additional ISS modules that could one day form an entirely new space station, even after the ISS is decommissioned.