SpaceX's Ax-1 mission is making its way back to Earth from the ISS

Ax-1 returns to Earth roughly one week later than originally planned.
Chris Young

The first all-private mission to fly to the International Space Station is making its return trip following several delays that made the mission last a week longer than expected, a press statement reveals.

The Mission, called Ax-1, was organized by Texas-based startup Axiom Space, which also aims to send a private space station into orbit.

The four crew members — former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and American real estate magnate Larry Connor — had to remain aboard the ISS longer than expected due to delays caused mainly by unfavorable weather conditions.

The mission left the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday at 9:10 pm EST, 15 minutes past the scheduled time due to communications problems.

The crew is currently undergoing the roughly day-long journey through space before splashing down off the coast of Florida at around 1 pm ET Monday.

Ax-1 astronauts completed a "vast amount of work"

Ax-1 was originally meant to be a 10-day mission, though it ended up lasting roughly a week longer than scheduled. The civilian astronauts carried out tasks including scientific experiments, commercial duties, and outreach events via video conference. The experiments included "self-assembling technology for future space habitats, cell samples, and more," Axiom said in its statement.

Once weather delays were announced, this allowed the astronauts "a bit more time to absorb the remarkable views of the blue planet (before departure) and review the vast amount of work that was successfully completed during the mission," according to Axiom Space.

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The company also stated that Ax-1 is "the first of several proposed Axiom missions to the ISS and an important step toward Axiom Station, the world’s first private space station in low-Earth orbit, which can serve as a global academic and commercial hub."

Ax-1 isn't the first time civilians have traveled to the ISS. Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has also taken non-astronauts to the space station aboard their Soyuz launch vehicle. However, Ax-1 is the first mission to the ISS without a single serving astronaut or cosmonaut — Michael López-Alegría used to work as an astronaut for NASA but is now employed by Axiom Space. SpaceX also sent an all-civilian mission, Inspiration4, into orbit for four days last year, though that mission didn't dock with the space station.

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