AFP, published Monday, April 25, 2022 at 11:44 pm
Three businessmen, accompanied by a former NASA astronaut, landed off Florida on Monday aboard a SpaceX spacecraft after spending more than two weeks on the International Space Station.
The capsule landed in the Atlantic Ocean at 13:06 local time (17:06 GMT). Its dizzying descent was slowed by its entry into the atmosphere, then by huge parachutes.
“To all those who have supported us around the world, you have done an incredible job, it was an incredible mission,” said American Larry Connor, one of the passengers, from the capsule still tossed by the sea.
The craft was then hoisted aboard a SpaceX ship. The four passengers got out one by one, with an uncertain step for the time necessary to get used to gravity again.
Called Ax-1, this mission was the first completely private mission on the International Space Station (ISS). The American company Axiom Space bought the means of transport from SpaceX and paid NASA for the use of its station.
“A lot of people were looking at this mission just to see if it was practical,” Derek Hassmann, chief operating officer of Axiom Space, said at a news conference. “Can you train them in a short amount of time? Prepare them for a mission that has minimal impact on the ISS crew? I think we have proven that it is possible.”
The four men – three clients who paid tens of millions of dollars each and former Spanish-American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria – took off on April 8 from Florida. They had arrived on the ISS the next day, where they were initially expected to spend only eight days.
But their return had to be postponed several times due to bad weather conditions. Eventually 15 days were spent on the ISS and 17 in orbit. No additional costs were charged.
Larry Connor, head of a real estate company, Canadian Mark Pathy, head of an investment company, and former Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe, co-founder of an investment fund, refuse to be considered “space tourists”.
They have in fact conducted, they argue, a whole series of experiments aboard the ISS, in collaboration with research centers. This work focused on aging and heart health.
They will also spend the next few days in Orlando, where their health data will be collected. The goal is to study the effect of space stays on the human body, comparing them with the data collected before their journey.
– New Missions Coming Soon –
Monday was the fifth landing of a manned Dragon capsule. SpaceX now regularly transports NASA astronauts to the ISS.
There are currently seven people on board the Station: three Americans and a German who arrived thanks to a SpaceX ship (a crew called Crew-3), as well as three Russians who traveled aboard a Soyuz rocket.
All will be joined in the next few days by four other astronauts (three Americans and one Italian), Crew-4. Once the delivery is complete, the Crew-3 will return to Earth in turn.
Elon Musk’s company also carried out another entirely private mission last year (Inspiration4), but this one did not go to the Space Station, the four passengers simply remained in the capsule for three days.
The novices had already visited the ISS, especially in the 2000s. But they flew aboard the Soyuz, accompanied by cosmonauts on duty. Last year, Russia took up this kind of travel again, sending a film crew, then a Japanese billionaire.
NASA for its part clearly encourages this move to privatize low orbit. On the one hand, it wants to generate revenue through these private missions: a second one, Ax-2, has already been approved and is expected to take place in about a year.
But above all, after the withdrawal of the ISS around 2030, NASA no longer wants to have to manage the operation of a space station itself, and pass the baton to private companies. The US agency would then simply hire its services to send its astronauts there and could then focus on remote exploration.
Axiom Space is one of the most advanced companies to position itself in this niche: it wants to launch the first module from its station in 2024.
The facility will first be connected to the ISS, before becoming autonomous to take over.
The experience accumulated thanks to Ax-1 therefore represented a crucial first step, according to the leaders of Axiom Space, destined to lay the foundations for the many missions to come.