Ax-1 launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 8, 2022, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Florida's Space Coast, a mission spearheaded by Houston-based company Axiom Space. With a picture-perfect liftoff, the crew officially began a 10-day journey that includes eight days aboard the ISS, as the SpaceX Dragon capsule is set to dock with the station early on April 9. However, none of Ax-1's four crewmembers are government spaceflyers: it's the first-ever fully private crewed mission to visit the station.
Retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, now vice president of business development for Axiom, is Commander of the Ax-1 mission and is joined by mission pilot Larry Connor and mission specialists Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe. Pathy is the CEO and chair of MARVIK, a Canadian sustainable investment company, Connor is a real estate entrepreneur and pilot, and Stibbe is a founding partner of the Vital Capital Impact investment fund and was a fighter pilot with the Israel Air Force. He will be the second Israeli person ever to reach space; the first, Ilan Ramon, was an astronaut on the Space Shuttle Columbia who died during the tragedy in 2003. In Ramon's memory, the Ramon family and Stibbe co-founded the nonprofit Ramon Foundation.
The Houston-based company overseeing the entire mission, Axiom Space, does not build launch vehicles or rockets like other emerging private spaceflight industry players. The company arranges private missions to the ISS, including nearly seventeen weeks of training and custom itineraries based on individual goals of those able to afford the trip. This is where the Ax-1 crew feels they are different from other "space tourists." Commander López-Alegría and other mission team members have stressed that the three paying customers, each is thought to have spent around $55 million on their seats, are astronauts.
The crew has several tasks planned for their mission, aiming to conduct 25 different scientific experiments. Among these is a "brain headset" from Israeli startup Brain.Space that Stibbe is carrying with him, which aims to observe how the brain behaves in space. It is one of many experiments Stibbe is bringing on behalf of the Ramon Foundation. The Ax-1 crew will also study other topics, including aging, stem cells, and heart health.
Ax-1 is not just the first fully private crewed mission to the space station or the first crewed launch for Axiom. For Axiom Space, it is the first significant step toward realizing its own commercial space station in low Earth orbit, which is also set to be the first of its kind. Axiom aims to build the next commercial space station, and Ax-1 is a precursor mission to achieving that goal. Axiom is planning to launch the first module of their commercial space station in late 2024, which will be connected to the ISS. It will gradually expand, eventually separating and becoming the commercial low Earth orbit destination of choice after the ISS has been retired.