On April 9 at 8:29 a.m. history was made as the Axiom-1 crew docked at the International Space Station (ISS). As the first all-private astronaut mission to the ISS, Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy accomplished a feat that is sure to be pivotal in the privatization of space travel.
With the contracted help of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Axiom Space planned a 10-day mission that would focus on science, education and STEM outreach.
The four-person, multinational crew representing the United States, Spain, Israel and Canada, were to complete over 100 hours of research on more than 25 different experiments during their time in space.
With between 700 and 1,000 hours completed by each of the crew members, training was nothing short of rigorous to ensure the astronauts were prepared for their historical journey. The crew were the first private astronauts to complete NASA’s training flow.
For Axiom Space, the Axiom-1 mission is only the beginning. This mission is the first of many proposed trips to the ISS by the company, as well as an important step toward their plans for the first ever commercial space station — Axiom Station.
On April 7, Axiom-1 clears NASA’s Launch Readiness Review, allowing the crew to begin prepares for liftoff.
On Friday, April 8, Axiom-1 completes a successful and historic launch. Liftoff occurred at 11:17 a.m. from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With the crew safely in air aboard SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavor spacecraft, the public awaited an anticipated docking at the ISS at 7:45 a.m. the following morning.
“What a historic launch! Thank you to the dedicated teams at NASA who have worked tirelessly to make this mission a reality,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA’s partnership with industry through the commercial cargo and crew programs has led our nation to this new era in human spaceflight — one with limitless potential.”
On April 9, after nearly 21 hours of travel, Axiom-1 arrives at the ISS at 8:29 a.m. Saturday morning. Due to a technical glitch involving video transmissions, docking was delayed by about 45 minutes as space station teams worked to resolve the issue. After the crew was able to dock, they were welcomed aboard the ISS by Expedition 67 crew members, becoming 4 of 11 humans currently living on the station.
As of April 17, the crew are on day 10 of their mission with two more to go until the conclusion of Axiom-1.
The Future of Privatized Space Travel
Until recently, space travel has exclusively been conducted for government research purposes. However, with companies like SpaceX and Axiom Space completing historic missions like Axiom-1, this truth is rapidly changing. Suddenly, commercial space travel is on the horizon.
As we make steps toward the possibility of recreational space tourism, it is important to consider possible consequences, namely environmental concerns.
Frequent rocket launches have the potential to critically damage atmospheric composition and the ozone layer. Additionally, greenhouse gases from the immense amounts of fuel required to launch a spacecraft could raise global temperatures if launches become regular occurrence.
Companies like SpaceX have worked to minimize the concern of space junk (any debris left in space by humans). Through working toward the use of recyclable rockets — a success seen by SpaceX in 2017 with the successful completion of a mission using a partially recycled Falcon 9 rocket. Space junk has the potential to pose threats to space exploration in the future as we add to the 34,000 sizable pieces of space junk with each consecutive launch. However, with efforts like those of SpaceX, private space travel’s contributions to space junk can be minimized, stabelizing the growing risk of collisions.
As seen with SpaceX’s efforts towards minimizing space junk, technological advances have the ability to mitigate concerns caused by futuristic prospects like space tourism. If technology continues to rapidly advance, there’s a possibility of more environmentally friendly space travel. As of now, however, it is critical to consider possible consequences of privatized space travel along with the exciting benefits.