First all-private astronaut team aboard space station undocks for flight home
The first all-private astronaut team ever to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS) departed the orbiting outpost on Sunday (April 24) to begin a descent back to Earth, capping a two-week science mission hailed as a milestone in commercial spaceflight.
A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the four-man team from the Houston-based startup company Axiom Space undocked from the ISS at about 9:10 p.m. EDT (0110 GMT Monday) to embark on a 16-hour return flight, a live NASA webcast showed.
The Axiom astronauts, garbed in their helmeted white-and-black spacesuits, were seen strapped into the crew cabin shortly before the spacecraft separated from the station, orbiting some 250 miles (420 km) above Earth. A couple of brief rocket thrusts then pushed the capsule safely clear of the ISS.
If all goes smoothly, the Dragon capsule, dubbed Endeavour, will parachute into the Atlantic off the coast of Florida on Monday around 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).
The flight home was postponed for several days due to unfavourable weather at the splashdown zone, extending the Axiom crew's stay in orbit well beyond its original departure date early last week.
The multinational team was led by Spanish-born retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 63, Axiom's vice president for business development. Larry Connor, 72, a real estate-technology entrepreneur and aerobatics aviator from Ohio, was the second in command.
Rounding out the Ax-1 crew were investor-philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52, both serving as mission specialists.
Launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on April 8, they spent two weeks aboard ISS with the seven regular, government-paid crew of the space station: three American astronauts, a German astronaut and three Russian cosmonauts.
The Axiom Quartet became the first all-commercial astronaut team ever launched to the space station, taking with them equipment for two dozen science experiments, biomedical research and technology demonstrations conducted in orbit.