SpaceX has launched the first all-private Ax-1 astronaut mission to the ISS

It marks a big first for Axiom Space.
Brad Bergan
A Falcon 9 launching on a previous mission.SpaceX / YouTube

We've just turned the page on commercial space travel.

SpaceX has launched the first crew of all-private astronauts — including one former NASA astronaut and three space tourists — on a trip to the International Space Station (ISS), according to a live stream on the firm's official YouTube channel.

Liftoff happened at roughly 11:17 AM EDT on Friday, April 8, from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, using SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

This marks the first all-private mission to the ISS, in addition to the first crewed mission from Axiom Space (Ax-1) — which will place the four astronauts on the space station for 10 days, under the command of the former NASA astronaut, Michael López-Alegría.

And this is just the beginning of Axiom's plans for space — in anticipation of the first commercial space station, which could begin construction in space in 2024.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts Axiom's all-private crew to the ISS

The Ax-1 is slated to dock with the ISS on Saturday, April 9, at roughly 7:30 AM EDT. Eight of its 10 mission days in space will take place aboard the station, setting the stage for the rapidly unfurling space tourism industry. "When I was a kid, I was so inspired by the early manned missions that NASA had put in the first three [crewed space programs] — Mercury, Gemini and Apollo," said López-Alegría in a pre-launch news conference on April 1, according to a report.

"It was such an inspiration to me, and to be able to participate in what I think is opening the next chapter is truly an honor," added López-Alegría. "I can say with zero hesitation that we are ready to fly."

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Each of the three non-astronaut crew members paid an estimated $55 million per seat, but their interest in space extends beyond space tourism — while aboard the ISS, they'll deliver supplies and science experiments, to take place there. One of the experiments involves a "brain headset" from an Israel-based startup that wants to evaluate the way the human brain functions during spaceflight and while living in space.

Notably, among the suite of experiments is a plan to evaluate the basics of building a space telescope that employs a liquid mirror — which would be 10 to 100 times larger than the James Webb Space Telescope — in space.

Axiom's ambitions for the first commercial space station

Mission Specialist Stibbe is bringing the experiments to the ISS, representing the Ramon Foundation — an organization he co-founded in honor of his friend, Ilan Ramon. Ramon was an Israeli astronaut who perished aboard the space shuttle Columbia as it burned up during atmospheric re-entry, in 2003. This will make Stibbe the second Israeli national to achieve orbit (after Ramon), and — if all goes well — he'll also become the first to make it back to planet Earth.

As for Axiom itself, this is merely the first step in a highly ambitious plan to build the first commercial space station in Earth orbit. The firm has already started building what it claims will be exactly that. The first module of its station will be lifted to the ISS in 2024, with progressively more arriving in the following years.

Once it achieves a sufficiently cohesive scale, the modules will detach from their erstwhile "mothership" (the ISS), and constitute Axiom's independent space station. There are other significant players in the space tourism industry aiming to build the first commercial space station in Earth orbit — in February of this year, Orbital Assembly Corporation took a small but crucial step for space hotels when it announced its completion of a $1-million funding round, which means it will start "fill[ing] key positions and focus on attracting larger investors and strategic partners," according to a statement shared with IE. If we've arrived at the dawn of space tourism, today is the day it steps off of the planning board and keynote stages, and rockets into orbit at 10 times the speed of sound.

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