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First all-private astronaut team aboard space station heads for splashdown

  • Published
    26th Apr, 2022
Context

The first all-private astronaut crew to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS) headed for splashdown recently off the coast of Florida, wrapping up a two-week mission that NASA has touted as a landmark in commercial spaceflight.

About

FIERY RE-ENTRY

  • A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the four-man team of Houston-based startup Axiom Space Inc began its return flight about 9 p.m.
  • The splashdown, carried live by a joint Axiom-SpaceX webcast, was originally planned for last Wednesday, but the return flight was delayed due to unfavorable weather.
  • The return from orbit followed a re-entry plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sends temperatures surrounding the outside of the capsule soaring to 1,927 degrees Celsius.

‘LOW-EARTH ORBIT ECONOMY’

  • Axiom, SpaceX and NASA have touted the occasion as a milestone in the expansion of privately funded space-based commerce, constituting what industry insiders call the “low-Earth orbit economy,” or “LEO economy” for short.
  • Launched on April 8, the Axiom team spent 15 days aboard the space station with the seven regular, government-paid ISS crew members: three American astronauts, a German astronaut and three Russian cosmonauts.
  • The ISS has hosted several wealthy space tourists from time to time over the years.
  • But the Axiom quartet was the first all-commercial team ever welcomed to the space station as working astronauts, bringing with them 25 science and biomedical experiments to conduct in orbit.
    • The package included research on brain health, cardiac stem cells, cancer and aging, as well as a technology demonstration to produce optics using the surface tension of fluids in microgravity.
  • It was the sixth human spaceflight for SpaceX in nearly two years, following four NASA astronaut missions to the ISS and the “Inspiration 4” flight in September that sent an all-private crew into Earth orbit for the first time, though not to the space station.
  • SpaceX has been hired to fly three more Axiom astronaut missions to ISS over the next two years.
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