(Image credit: NASA TV)
The three first-time fliers on the first commercial crew to visit the International Space Station arrived on board the orbiting outpost on Saturday (April 9), where they were promptly pinned as the world’s newest astronauts.
Axiom-1 (Ax-1) commander Michael López-Alegría, who is now the first former NASA astronaut to return to the space station, marked their arrival with a brief pinning ceremony honoring his crewmates Larry Connor of Ohio, Mark Pathy of Canada and Eytan Stibbe, who is now Israel’s second citizen to fly into space. The four arrived at the space station on SpaceX‘s Crew Dragon Endeavour, which launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday (April 8).
“I gotta tell you this is it’s quite an experience,” said López-Alegría, as he floated alongside his three Ax-1 crewmates and the seven members of the International Space Station‘s Expedition 67 crew. “I can’t even begin to describe how fun it has been to be in Dragon for the last day and a half or so, watching these guys faces light up.”
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The faces of Connor, Pathy and Stibbe lit up again as López-Alegría recognized each as official space explorers.
“There’s a tradition that when you cross a certain boundary — and that boundary is debatable, but in the United States it is at 50 miles — you become an astronaut [by] altitude, and that happened to these three gentlemen for the first time yesterday,” López-Alegría said. “A little while ago, the Association of Space Explorers, which encompasses a lot of members from 38 different countries that have flown astronauts, decided to commission a pin (opens in new tab) and I happen to have three of them in my hand.”
As each Ax-1 astronaut was pinned, they spoke briefly about arriving at their new home and research platform for the next eight days.
“I’m thrilled and honored to be up here,” said Connor, who became only the second private astronaut to serve as the pilot of an orbital spaceflight. “Thanks to SpaceX for the phenomenal ride. I mean, no pun intended, but [it was] out of this world.”
“We’re here to experience this,” he added, ‘but we understand there’s a responsibility and the responsibility is for this first civilian crew to get it right. And that’s what we are fully committed to, with the support of everybody here at the ISS and and on the ground. So it is going to be a busy week of research for us and I’m sure it’s going to fly by.”
During their time on the space station, the Ax-1 crew plans to take part in a multi-discipline science program sponsored by the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Canadian Space Agency, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Ramon Foundation and Israel Space Agency. They will also conduct activities for Axiom Space, the Houston-based space services company that organized their flight as the first step in its plan to develop a commercial space station.
NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, commander of the Expedition 67 crew, welcomed the Axiom-1 members onto the station and recognized the milestone they were reaching together.
“All of us are incredibly thrilled and excited to welcome Axiom on board,” said Marshburn, speaking on behalf of his American, European and Russian crewmates. “On this historic day, we expect long term cooperation with NASA, with our international partners, with private companies and private astronauts.”
“So we are ready to go to work,” he said.
The Axiom crew’s arrival was delayed by about 45 minutes on Saturday due to an issue with a camera feed from abroad the Dragon. SpaceX’s flight controllers in Hawthorne, California were able to find a workaround and docking was achieved at 8:29 a.m. EDT (1229 GMT).
“All I can say is nicely done by the whole team,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s space operations mission directorate, who took part in the welcome ceremony from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “I know the team has a lot of things lined up to do over this next week and this is going to be important for us, to be able to work as a team.”
Axiom Space co-founder, president and CEO Michael Suffredini, who previously served as NASA’s manager for the space station program, shared similar sentiments.
“We’ve been talking about this history making mission for a long time, so we are going to stop talking about it now and just get on with it,” said Suffredini, addressing the combined crews on the space station. “So you guys have a great a great mission.”
Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of “Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.