First private mission blasts off for International Space Station

Published April 9, 2022
A ROCKET of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft blasts off to the International Space Station at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Friday.—AFP
A ROCKET of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft blasts off to the International Space Station at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Friday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: The first fully private mission to the International Space Station blasted off from Florida on Friday with a four-member crew from startup company Axiom Space.

The partnership has been hailed by NASA, which sees it as a key step in its goal to commercialise the region of space known as “Low Earth Orbit”, leaving the agency to focus on more ambitious endeavors deeper into the cosmos.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavor launched at 11:17am (1517 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Centre.

“We’re taking commercial business off the face of the Earth and putting it up in space,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said ahead of lift-off.

Widely reported price for tickets, which includes eight days on the outpost, is $55m

Commanding the Axiom-1 mission is former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, a dual citizen of the United States and Spain, who flew to space four times over his 20-year career, and last visited the ISS in 2007.

He is joined by three paying crewmates: American real estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, and Israeli former fighter pilot, investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe.

The widely reported price for tickets — which includes eight days on the outpost — is $55 million.

Research projects

But unlike the recent, attention-grabbing suborbital flights carried out by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, Axiom says its mission shouldn’t be considered tourism.

On board the ISS, which orbits 250 miles (400 kilometres) above sea level, the quartet will carry out research projects, including an MIT technology demonstration of smart tiles that form a robotic swarm and self-assemble into space architecture.

Another experiment involves using cancer stem cells to grow mini tumors, then leveraging the accelerated aging environment of microgravity to identify early changes in those tumors, in order to improve early detection of cancers on Earth.

“The distinction is that our guys aren’t going up there and floating around for eight days taking pictures and looking out of the cupola,” Derek Hassmann, operations director of Axiom Space, told reporters at a pre-launch briefing. “I mean, we have a very intensive and research-oriented timeline plan for them.”

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2022

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