The pioneering Ax-1 private astronaut mission has left the International Space Station (ISS) and is headed back to Earth.
Ax-1’s SpaceX Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, undocked from the orbiting lab today (April 24) at 9:10 p.m. EDT (1310 GMT on April 25). Endeavour and its four passengers will splash down off the Florida coast on Monday (April 25) at 1:06 p.m. EDT (1706 GMT), if all goes according to plan.
“Thanks once again for all the support through this amazing adventure that we’ve had,” Ax-1 mission commander Michael López-Alegría radioed NASA’s mission control in Houston after undocking. “Even longer and more exciting than we thought. We really appreciate your professionalism, and with that we’ll sign off.”
Mother Nature delayed the capsule’s departure from the station several times. Ax-1 was originally supposed to undock on Tuesday morning (April 19) and arrive on Earth early Wednesday (April 20), but predicted bad weather in the splashdown zone pushed things back about 12 hours. And these poor conditions persisted, causing additional delays until Endeavour was finally able to get on its way today.
Endeavour and the Ax-1 crew launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 8 and arrived at the orbiting lab on April 9, becoming the first-ever all-private crewed mission to visit the station.
The mission was organized by Houston company Axiom Space and is led by López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who now serves as Axiom’s vice president of business development. The other three passengers are paying customers — American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, each of whom reportedly paid about $55 million for his seat.
Stibbe is just the second Israeli ever to reach space. The first, Ilan Ramon, died along with his six crewmates in the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. Stibbe and Ramon were friends.
Ax-1 is not just a one-off for Axiom Space. The company has booked several other missions to the orbiting lab with SpaceX, and it also plans to start operating its own private space station in Earth orbit in the late 2020s or thereabouts.
Though Ax-1 is the first all-private crewed mission to the ISS, it’s not the first such effort to reach Earth orbit: The private Inspiration4 mission sent four people into orbit around Earth in a Dragon capsule for three days in September 2021.
The extra time Ax-1 spent aboard the ISS did not end up costing Axiom Space extra money, by the way. The contract the company negotiated with NASA covers Ax-1 for a number of contingency days, an agency spokesperson told Space.com.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.