Updated Apr 9, 2022 - Science

NASA and SpaceX launch first all-private crewed mission to ISS

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon spacecraft with four passengers lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on April 8.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon spacecraft with four passengers lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 8. Photo: Red Huber/Getty Images

NASA and SpaceX launched the first mission with an all-private crew to the International Space Station on Friday, sending a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers aboard a Crew Dragon capsule lifted by a Falcon 9 rocket.

The latest: The crew finished the first leg of its journey and docked at the ISS Saturday morning after a 21-hour trip in the Dragon capsule.

Why it matters: The 10-day mission, called Ax-1, was organized by Houston-based company Axiom Space, which hopes to one day build the world's first commercial space station.

  • This mission represents a major leap in NASA's bid to create an economy in low-Earth orbit supported by private companies, and it's Axiom's first crewed space mission.

The crew: Former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría is the commander, Larry Connor is the pilot, and Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe are mission specialists.

  • After docking with the ISS early Saturday morning, the four crew members are scheduled to spend about eight days on the space station, where they plan to participate in research projects.
  • Stibbe, a former Israeli aircraft pilot, is now the second Israeli citizen to go to space. The first was Ilan Ramon, who perished along with six other crew members during STS-107 in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded on reentry.

What they're saying: "We're taking commercial business off the face of the Earth and putting it up in space," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during an interview with Axiom Space before the launch.

  • "We want to get NASA out of low-Earth orbit and go explore the heavens. We want to direct our energy and our resources to do that because we're going back to the Moon, and we're going to Mars," Nelson added.
  • "We want to have commercial space stations. NASA wants to [have the] ability to lease space on a commercial space station instead of having the responsibility of the space station."

The big picture: With the ISS retiring within the next decade, NASA risks losing a foothold in low-Earth orbit at a time when that domain of space is predicted to become more congested as more countries and companies gain access to space travel.

  • NASA has asked private companies, like Axiom Space, to develop new commercial stations that NASA astronauts could visit and perform experiments on.
  • Multiple companies are now vying for the chance to build such space stations, Axios' Miriam Kramer reports.
  • SpaceX became the first company to carry NASA astronauts to the ISS in May 2020 and the first to launch a completely private, all-civilian mission to space in September 2021 with Inspiration4.

Go deeper: SpaceX to launch three additional private missions

Editor's note: This article was updated after the mission docked at the ISS.

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