SpaceX is on the verge of sending its first space tourism mission to the International Space Station.
The private space firm has shared images of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule that will fly the Ax-1 mission, which is currently scheduled to launch on Friday, April 8 from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX's first all-private launch to the ISS
Images on SpaceX's Twitter page show the Falcon 9 rocket and the Crew Dragon capsule emblazoned with the name Axiom Space — the Houston-based company that paid SpaceX to send three paying customers alongside former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría to the ISS.
The customers will stay aboard the orbital laboratory for eight days, during which they will carry out several scientific experiments and perform commercial activities. Have a look at our guide for how to live stream the event here.
Space tourists have previously flown to the ISS on Russian Soyuz launch vehicles, but this will be the first time a crew of space tourists flies to the station without a government astronaut — López-Alegría has flown on three Space Shuttle missions and one International Space Station mission, but he is currently contracted by Axiom Space.
This will actually be SpaceX's second all-private space tourism mission, following the Inspiration4 launch last year, which sent an all-civilian crew into Earth orbit for a total of four days.
SpaceX and NASA aim for the Moon, Mars, and beyond
Ax-1's launch was originally set for Sunday, April 3, but it was delayed to allow for the "wet dress rehearsal" of NASA's Artemis 1 moon mission on the adjacent Pad 39B. NASA's rehearsal was held up by technical issues, however, and it will now take place after the Ax-1 mission.
The Artemis 1 mission will send NASA's SLS launch vehicle around the Moon in preparation for Artemis II, which will send astronauts around the Moon, and then Artemis III, which will carry out the first human Moon landings since 1972. Artemis III will use SpaceX's in-development Starship launch vehicle instead of SLS.
Later this month, SpaceX will also send another crewed mission, Crew-4, up to the ISS, with the launch currently scheduled for April 20 on Launch Pad 39A. That mission will send three NASA astronauts and Italian European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti up to the ISS for a long stay.
Crew Dragon Endeavour, the reusable Dragon capsule used for the Ax-1 mission has flown two crewed missions to the ISS, including SpaceX's first crewed mission, Demo-2. SpaceX recently announced that it was halting the production of new Crew Dragon capsules, as it now has four of the reusable spacecraft, and it wants to shift its attention to getting its Moon and Mars-bound reusable Starship launch vehicle into orbit.