The pioneering private astronaut mission Ax-1 has left the International Space Station (ISS) and is back on Earth.
Axe-1 SpaceX The Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, broke away from the orbiting laboratory today (April 24) at 9:10 p.m. EDT (1:10 p.m. GMT on April 25). Endeavor and its four passengers will disembark off the coast of Florida on Monday, April 25 at 1:06 p.m. EDT (1706 GMT), if all goes as planned.
“Thank you again for all the support we’ve had throughout this incredible adventure,” Ax-1 Mission Commander Michael López-Alegría told NASA Mission Control Houston after undocking. . “Even longer and more exciting than we thought. We really appreciate your professionalism, and with that we will sign.”
Mother Nature repeatedly delayed the capsule’s departure from the station. Axe-1 was originally scheduled to undock Tuesday morning (April 19) and arrive on Earth early Wednesday (April 20), but forecast bad weather in the splash zone pushed things back by about 12 hours. And these bad conditions persisted, causing additional delays until Endeavor can finally get under way today.
Related: Stunning photos of the Ax-1 private spaceflight
Endeavor and the crew of the Ax-1 launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 8 and arrived at the orbital laboratory on April 9, becoming the first-ever fully private crewed mission to visit the station.
The mission was organized by the company Houston Axiom space and is led by López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who is now vice president of business development at Axiom. The other three passengers are paying customers – American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, who each reportedly paid around $55 million for their seat.
Stibbe is only the second Israeli to reach space. The first, Ilan Ramon, died with his six teammates in the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Stibbe and Ramon were friends.
Ax-1 is not just a unique piece for Axiom Space. The company has booked several more missions to the orbiting lab with SpaceX, and it also plans to start operating its own private space station in Earth orbit in the late 2020s or thereabouts.
Although AX-1 is the first fully private crewed mission to the ISS, it is not the first such effort to reach Earth orbit: the private inspiration4 mission sent four people into orbit around Earth in a Dragon capsule for three days in September 2021.
Incidentally, the extra time spent by Ax-1 on board the ISS did not cost Axiom Space any extra money. The contract the company negotiated with NASA covers Ax-1 for a number of emergency days, an agency spokesperson told Space.com.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.