SpaceX Launch Sends 4 Private Astronauts to ISS

Once they arrive at ISS, the Axiom Space astronauts will conduct 30 scientific experiments that NASA says will help advance research in low-Earth orbit.

Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), the third all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, lifts off Thursday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. [Courtesy: NASA]

SpaceX and Axiom Space successfully launched four private astronauts into orbit Thursday, marking the third commercial mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) on board SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft lifted off via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 4:49 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

On board the spacecraft is the first all-European commercial astronaut crew, which is scheduled to spend about two weeks aboard ISS conducting microgravity research, educational outreach, and commercial activities, according to NASA.

Ax-3 crew checks in from orbit on January 18. [Courtesy: Axiom Space]

"Together with our commercial partners, NASA is supporting a growing commercial space economy and the future of space technology," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. "During their time aboard the International Space Station, the Ax-3 astronauts will carry out more than 30 scientific experiments that will help advance research in low-Earth orbit."

In a quick check-in shortly after liftoff, "Ax-3 commander Michael López-Alegría confirmed the crew's well-being and safety," according to Axiom Space.

The Dragon spacecraft is expected to autonomously dock with the forward port of the ISS Harmony module on Saturday around 4:19 a.m. EST.

"Hatches between Dragon and the station are expected to open after 6 a.m., allowing the Axiom crew to enter the complex for a welcoming ceremony and start their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory," NASA said.

NASA is providing live coverage of the docking event starting at 2:30 a.m. EST. It may be viewed here.

The Ax-3 astronauts are scheduled to leave the ISS on February 3 for their return to Earth and will splash down off the coast of Florida.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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