May 20, 2022

Private space crew headed home from space station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule

View Original Notice ? Private space crew headed home from space station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule

  • Staff at Hawthorne-based SpaceX keep watch as the crew departs form the International Space Station on Sunday. Photo: SpaceX

  • Private astronauts prepare a SpaceX module linked to the International Space Station before it uncoupled to return home to Earth on Sunday. Photo: SpaceX

  • A SpaceX module is linked to the International Space Station before it uncoupled to return home to Earth on Sunday. Photo: SpaceX

  • Michael Lopez-Alegria, former NASA astronaut and commander of the AX-1 mission. Photo: SpaceX

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Three wealthy businessmen and their astronaut escort headed home aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule from the International Space Station on Sunday, April 24, after their stay was extended by a series of delays spurred by weather concerns in their splashdown target off the Florida coast.

The mission was Hawthorne-based SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for NASA.

The crew left the space station aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday at 6:10 pm PDT. But as had happened so often already with this mission, there was one more delay, as the capsule departed 15 minutes past the original planned departure time of 5:55 pm PDT, as the capsule occupants dealt with minor communications issues.

The quartet will spend about one day free flying through orbit before plummeting back into the atmosphere and parachuting to a splashdown landing off the coast of Florida around 10:06 a.m. Monday.

Arriving at the space station more than a week ago were an American, a Canadian and an Israeli who run investment, real estate and other companies. They paid $55 million apiece for the rocket ride and accommodations, all meals included.

During their first 12 days on the space station, the group stuck to a regimented schedule, which included about 14 hours per day of activities, including scientific research that was designed by various research hospitals, universities, tech companies and more. They also spent time doing outreach events by video conferencing with children and students.

“It was a hell of a ride,” said former NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria during the trip.

The private Axiom Space company arranged the visit with NASA for its three paying customers: Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio, who runs the Connor Group; Mark Pathy, founder and CEO of Montreal’s Mavrik Corp.; and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot and founding partner of Vital Capital.

The three businessmen are the latest to take advantage of the opening of space to those with deep pockets. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is taking customers on 10-minute rides to the edge of space, while Virgin Galactic expects to start flying customers on its rocket ship later this year.

The mission was the second private charter for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which took a billionaire and his guests on a three-day orbit ride last year. SpaceX’s fifth flight of NASA astronauts to the station is coming up in just a couple weeks.

Axiom is targeting next year for its second private flight to the space station. More customer trips will follow, with Axiom adding its own rooms to the orbiting complex beginning in 2024. After about five years, the company plans to detach its compartments to form a self-sustaining station — one of several commercial outposts intended to replace the space station once it’s retired and NASA shifts to the moon.

The automated SpaceX capsule and its four passengers were originally due back April 19 with a splashdown off the Florida coast. But weather forecasts repeatedly forced postponement of the crew’s return.

The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.

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