The world’s first all-private crew to the International Space Station must wait at least another day to depart the orbiting lab after bad weather prevented a planned undocking Saturday (April 23).
NASA, SpaceX and the company Axiom Space, which is backing the private Ax-1 mission, called off plans to undock a SpaceX Dragon carrying its four-man crew due to unacceptably high winds at splashdown sites off the coast of Florida. Mission managers had been aiming for a Saturday evening undocking before the delay.
“At the conclusion of a weather briefing ahead of today’s planned undocking, NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams elected to wave off today’s undocking attempt due to a diurnal low wind trough which has been causing marginally high winds at the splashdown sites,” NASA officials wrote in an update Saturday. “The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew is now targeting to undock from the International Space Station 8:55 pm EDT Sunday, April 24.”
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SpaceX’s Ax-1 mission launched on April 8 to fly four commercial astronauts for Axiom Space, three of them paying passengers, on a short trip to the station. The crew includes commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut; and paying passengers Larry Connor, an American entrepreneur; Mark Pathy, a Canadian entrepreneur; and Israeli investor and entrepreneur Eytan Stibbe.
Connor, Pathy and Stibbe are paying a reported $55 million each for the flight. During their trip, the Ax-1 astronauts have performed a series of experiments, helped mint NFTs on the station, conducted educational outreach activities and enjoyed the spaceflight experience.
The Ax-1 mission was initially expected to last about 10 days, eight of them on the space station, but its duration was extended after weather concerns prevented a planned undocking on Tuesday (April 19). If the Ax-1 Dragon capsule can undock late Sunday, it is expected to splash down off the Florida coast around 1 pm EDT (1700 GMT) on Monday, April 25.
Ax-1’s undocking delays have caused a bit of a traffic jam for NASA’s next professional crew to visit the space station. SpaceX is set to launch that new crew on the Crew-4 mission on Tuesday (April 26) from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Crew-4 astronauts’ launch on a different SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has been on hold since mid-April due to the Ax-1 mission (which is currently using the Crew-4 mission’s docking port on the station) and delays with a NASA Artemis 1 Space Launch System fueling test that caused a ripple effect of schedule changes at the Kennedy Space Center for Ax-1 and Crew-4 earlier in the month.
NASA and SpaceX are also planning to return four other professional astronauts of the Crew-3 mission on the space station home after the Crew-4 launch on yet a third Dragon capsule.
If all goes well, NASA will broadcast undocking operations for the Ax-1 crew on Sunday, beginning with hatch closing between the Dragon and station at 6:30 pm EDT (2230 GMT). Undocking coverage will begin at 8:30 pm EDT (0030 GMT). You can watch both of those activities live, courtesy of NASA TV.
Axiom Space will provide a live webcast of the splashdown itself, beginning at 12 pm EDT (1600 GMT) on Monday.