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In landmark milestone, SpaceX launches first all-private astronaut team to space station

In landmark milestone, SpaceX launches first all-private astronaut team to space station

Mark Pathy, Larry Connor, Mike Lopez-Alegria, and Eytan Stibbe at launch pad 39A during a dress rehearsal for launch of Axiom’s Ax-1 mission. Credit: SpaceX

Four private citizens rode into orbit Friday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, making it the first all-commercial mission to visit the International Space Station.

The team of four selected by Houston-based startup Axiom Space Inc for its debut spaceflight and orbital science mission are hailed by industry executives and Nasa as a milestone in the commercialisation of spaceflight.

Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, commands the four-man crew. He was joined for the launch into space by pilot Larry Connor and mission specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.

As per Reuter's report, the rocket's upper stage delivered the crew capsule into its preliminary orbit nine minutes after the launch.

Meanwhile the rocket's reusable lower stage, having detached from the rest of the spacecraft, flew itself back to Earth and safely touched down on a landing platform floating on a drone vessel in the Atlantic.

According to launch commentators, if all goes as planned, the quartet will arrive at the space station on Saturday, after a 20-hour-plus flight, and the autonomously operated Crew Dragon will dock with the ISS.

Nasa, besides furnishing the launch site, will assume responsibility for the astronauts once they rendezvous with the space station to undertake eight days of science and biomedical research.

The mission, representing a partnership among Axiom, SpaceX and Nasa, has been touted by all three as a major step in the expansion of commercial space ventures collectively referred to by insiders as the low-Earth orbit economy, or LEO economy.

"We're taking commercial business off the face of the Earth and putting it up in space," the Nasa chief, Bill Nelson, said before the flight. The shift enabled his agency to focus more on sending humans back to the moon, to Mars and on other deep space exploration, he said.

The launch also stands as SpaceX's sixth human space flight in nearly two years, following four Nasa astronaut missions to the space station and the "Inspiration 4" launch in September that sent an all-civilian crew to orbit for the first time. That flight did not dock with the ISS.

While the space station has hosted civilian visitors from time to time, the Ax-1 mission will mark the first all-commercial team of astronauts to use the ISS for its intended purpose as an orbiting research laboratory.

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