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Universe Today

Axiom’s first astronauts end an extended space trip

Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station.

The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (10:06 a.m. PT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.

“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”

Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.

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GeekWire

Citizen astronaut is still seeking out new frontiers

KIRKLAND, Wash. — It’s been seven months since Chris Sembroski splashed down at the end of the world’s first all-civilian orbital space mission, but his drive to seek out new frontiers is still going strong.

The 42-year-old data engineer from Everett, Wash., won his spot on last September’s philanthropic Inspiration4 space trip thanks to a friend of his who won a lottery, but weighed too much to take advantage of the prize.

For months, Sembroski took time off from his day job at Lockheed Martin to train with his three crewmates: Jared Isaacman, the billionaire tech CEO who organized and paid for the mission; Hayley Arceneaux, a cancer survivor who now works for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Sian Proctor, a geology professor who parlayed her talents in art and business to win a “Shark Tank”-style contest.

Their training included a Mount Rainier climb, zero-G and high-G airplane rides, and hours upon hours of instruction from SpaceX. It all came to a climax with the foursome’s launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, followed by three days of experiments and outreach activities that raised more than $240 million for St. Jude.

A follow-up series of space missions, known as the Polaris Program, is expected to blaze more new trails for citizen astronauts — and generate even more contributions for cancer research.

Sembroski, meanwhile, is starting a new job as a data analytics engineer at DB Engineering in Redmond, Wash. In an interview conducted last week during a space industry social event at SigmaDesign’s Kirkland office, Sembroski talked about how he found out he was getting a free trip to orbit, what he experienced during the mission, and what he expects from his next adventure.

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Cosmic Space

Private astronauts get down to work on the space station

Axiom Space’s first quartet of private astronauts settled in on the International Space Station today after dealing with a glitch that cropped up during their approach.

The crew’s arrival aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule had to be delayed about 45 minutes while mission controllers at SpaceX and NASA sorted out an issue with a video system designed to monitor the docking using a camera aboard the space station.

After the video signal was re-routed, docking took place at 8:29 a.m. ET (5:29 a.m. PT). “We’re happy to be here, even though we’re a bit late,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, the former NASA astronaut who’s commanding the mission for Houston-based Axiom Space.

A little less than two hours after docking, Lopez-Alegria and Axiom’s three customers — Larry Connor, Mark Pathe and Eytan Stibbe — floated through the hatch to become the first completely private-sector crew to visit the space station.

The seven long-term residents of the space station — representing the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency — greeted them with hugs and handshakes. Then the full complement of 11 faced the cameras for a welcome ceremony that incorporated a new tradition.

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX sends first all-private crew to space station

For the first time ever, a non-governmental spaceship is taking a fully non-governmental crew to the International Space Station.

Axiom Space’s quartet of spacefliers blasted into orbit at 11:17 a.m. ET (8:17 a.m. PT) aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon, riding SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Zero-G and we feel fine,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, the former NASA astronaut who’s commanding the Ax-1 mission for Axiom. That comment echoed what space pioneer John Glenn said 60 years earlier when he became the first American in orbit.

The launch marked another milestone in the move toward privately supported space missions. It was the first mission flown under the provisions that NASA drew up three years ago for hosting private astronauts on the space station.

Three millionaire investors from three different countries — American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe — paid fares estimated at $55 million to spend about 10 days in orbit. They’ll conduct more than two dozen science experiments and technology demonstrations, do some outreach activities, and spend leisure time enjoying the view and experiencing the zero-G environment.

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GeekWire

Billionaire kicks off new orbital missions with SpaceX

Five months after billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman led a crew for a privately funded philanthropic space mission, he’s doing it again. And maybe again, and again.

The Shift4 CEO announced today that he’ll be working with SpaceX on a series of three Polaris Program missions — starting with a Crew Dragon flight that could launch as early as this year, and climaxing with the first crewed orbital flight of SpaceX’s Starship super-rocket.

During the first mission of the series, known as Polaris Dawn, Isaacman and his crew will aim to conduct the first spacewalk done from the Dragon’s hatch, test the laser communication system for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband telecom network, and potentially set an altitude record for orbital spaceflight.

The main goal for last September’s Inspiration4 flight, paid for by Isaacman, was to raise more than $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. — a goal that was achieved. St. Jude’s will also be a beneficiary this time around, but the prime directive is to test technologies that SpaceX will rely on for future missions to the moon and Mars.

Isaacman said he and SpaceX are splitting the mission cost, but he declined to provide any further details about who’s paying how much. Two of his crewmates for Polaris Dawn — Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon — are SpaceX engineers who specialize in crew operations and training. The fourth crew member is veteran fighter pilot Scott “Kidd” Poteet, who served as a mission director for Inspiration4.

Lots of the details behind the Polaris Dawn mission remain to be filled in: For example, SpaceX still has to create and test spacesuits that can stand up to the vacuum of space. But Isaacman was confident SpaceX would get the job done. “This is an organization that makes things that we never could have imagined and brings it to reality,” he said.

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GeekWire

Citizen spacefliers splash down, ending charity mission

The first non-governmental flight to orbit ended with a splash — and with the safe return of the Inspiration4 mission’s billionaire commander and his three crewmates.

Shift4 Payment’s 38-year-old founder and CEO, Jared Isaacman, paid what’s thought to be a price of more than $100 million for the three-day flight. The mission began on Sept. 15 with a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and ended at 7:06 p.m. ET (4:06 p.m. PT) today with the splashdown of SpaceX’s reusable Crew Dragon capsule in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Inspiration4’s main goal is to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In addition to paying for the flight, Isaacman committed to donating $100 million. Another $60 million was raised by the time the Crew Dragon came back to Earth — and soon after the splashdown, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pushed the total past $210 million. “Count me in for $50M,” Musk wrote in a tweet.

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GeekWire

‘All-civilian’ crew shares art, music and views from orbit

On the eve of their scheduled return from orbit, four amateur spacefliers brought the world up to date on their activities — an out-of-this-world routine that focused on raising money for charity and gazing out the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule’s cupola window.

Inspiration4 crew member Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin data engineer who hails from Everett, Wash., even strummed a serenade on a custom-made ukulele.

“I can play a little for you,” he said over a space-to-Earth video link. “You can turn your volume down if you wish, but I’ll give it a shot.”

Sembroski’s music sounded just fine; nevertheless, he followed up the performance with a promise. “It’s still before coffee, so it’ll get better as the day goes on,” he said.

The ukulele, like many of the other items that the foursome brought with them for their Sept. 15 launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will be sold off to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Supporting St. Jude’s mission to treat childhood cancer is the philanthropic goal behind the Inspiration4 mission, as conceived by Jared Isaacman, Shift4 Payments’ billionaire founder and CEO. Isaacman, an amateur pilot who created his own private fleet of fighter jets, is paying the multimillion-dollar cost of the mission and serves as its commander.

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GeekWire

Citizen spacefliers begin an orbital mission like no other

A tech billionaire and three other non-professional spacefliers blasted off today to begin the first non-governmental, philanthropic mission carrying a crew to orbit.

The founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, Jared Isaacman, is paying what’s thought to be in excess of $100 million for what’s expected to be a three-day flight in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

Isaacman organized the Inspiration4 mission with SpaceX’s help as a benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The 38-year-old billionaire kicked off the $200 million campaign with a commitment to donate $100 million himself.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:02 p.m. ET (5:02 p.m. PT). “Punch it, SpaceX!” Isaacman told mission control.

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GeekWire

Billionaire’s space crew bonds on Mount Rainier

The road to space runs through … Mount Rainier?

Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, who’s paying for a trip to orbit as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, thinks a three-day expedition on Washington state’s highest mountain with his future crewmates is a good way to prepare for three days of being cooped up in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

“We’re going to get comfortable getting uncomfortable,” he was quoted as saying in an Instagram post by John Kraus, the official photographer for Isaacman’s Inspiration4 space campaign.

Over the weekend, Isaacman and the three other members of the Inspiration4 Dragon crew — Lockheed Martin engineer Christopher Sembroski, Arizona geoscientist Sian Proctor and St. Jude physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux — were part of a team that took on the miles-long trek to Camp Muir, a way station at the mountain’s 10,080-foot elevation.

Isaacman and a subset of the team went even higher and reached the 14,411-foot-tall mountain’s summit during this trip — a stretch goal that the billionaire businessman missed out on during a preparatory climb earlier this month.

If all goes according to plan, the Inspiration4 foursome will climb into the same Crew Dragon spaceship that brought four astronauts back from the International Space Station over the weekend. SpaceX will refurbish the craft, christened Resilience, for a mission set for liftoff as early as September.

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX and NASA make history with night splashdown

For the first time since Apollo 8 in 1968, NASA astronauts returning to Earth from orbit have splashed down at night. And for the first time ever, it was done with a commercial spaceship.

After spending 168 days in space, NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, descended safely from the International Space Station to the Gulf of Mexico in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience. The Dragon hit the water off Florida’s Gulf Coast at 2:56 a.m. ET today (11:56 p.m. PT May 1).

A recovery team hauled the Dragon, with its crew inside, onto the deck of a ship called the Go Navigator. While he waited to be brought out from the capsule, Hopkins expressed his thanks to the SpaceX and NASA teams for a trouble-free return.

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. … Quite frankly, y’all are changing the world. Congratulations,” Hopkins said. “It’s great to be back.”