Overview: Private Astronauts Make Second Attempt to Reach Space Station
After a last-minute delay earlier this week, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on January 18th, carrying the first all-European crew to the International Space Station (ISS) on the private Axiom Mission 3.
The Ax-3 mission marks a milestone for Europe’s growing role in commercial human spaceflight. The four-person crew comprises private astronauts from Italy, Sweden and Turkey, contracted by Houston-based company Axiom Space to spend over a week conducting research on the ISS.
Liftoff occurred at [time] EST from Launch Complex 39A. About nine minutes after launch, the Crew Dragon capsule separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage while traveling at over 17,000 mph in low-Earth orbit. Over the next [duration], the spacecraft will raise its altitude and rendezvous with the ISS.
Lead Up: Months of Delays Preceded Historic Mission
Originally targeted for 2021, delays due to scheduling issues pushed the launch to early 2022. Further setbacks throughout last year, including payload issues and inclement weather, repeatedly scrubbed the attempt.
As late as Monday this week, teams called off the first countdown with under three minutes remaining after detecting an engine pressure fluctuation. SpaceX and NASA spent the next few days analyzing data and replacing components to ensure a successful second try.
Crew: Diverse Team of Private Explorers
Commanding the mission is veteran Italian astronaut Walter Villadei, who previously flew aboard two Space Shuttle missions. Joining him is private astronaut Marcus Wandt from Sweden, a former fighter pilot and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first commercial astronaut.
|Former ESA astronaut, two prior spaceflights
|First ESA commercial astronaut, fighter pilot
|Entrepreneur, first Turkish astronaut
|Engineer, repeats prior Axiom flight
Rounding out the four space travelers are Turkish entrepreneur Alperen Gezeravci, the first astronaut of Turkish descent, and American engineer Janice Voss, a repeat customer from Axiom’s debut crewed flight Ax-2.
Mission Details: Eight Days of Research and Outreach
During their eight-day stay aboard the ISS, the Axiom astronauts will participate in over 25 science experiments and technology demonstrations. Research areas include cardiovascular health, motion sickness treatments, and cancer therapies.
The crew will also engage in Earth observation and outreach events with schools across Europe. Villadei, Wandt, Gezeravci and Voss represent the growing trend of non-government astronauts as space increasingly opens for commercial and international participation.
Splashdown and Impact
If all goes according to schedule, the Axiom Mission 3 astronauts will undock from the Harmony module of the ISS on [date] to begin their return voyage. They are set to splash down off the coast of Florida later the same day.
From there, the Crew Dragon capsule will be retrieved and the crew flown back to Houston for a hero’s welcome. As the first mission of its kind for Europe, the successful conclusion of Ax-3 paves the way for more private astronauts and spaceflight opportunities from ESA member nations.
The Ax-3 team is slated to share their experiences in a post-flight press conference at Johnson Space Center. Their account of conducting cutting-edge microgravity research while gazing at Earth from orbit will likely inspire the next generation of European science and space exploration.
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