First private space mission to ISS off to "historic start"

Cape Canaveral, Florida - The first private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off from Florida on Friday with four people on board.

The first private astronaut and spacecraft mission to the International Space Station lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday.
The first private astronaut and spacecraft mission to the International Space Station lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday.  © REUTERS

The Ax-1 mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida in a Crew Dragon space capsule, boosted by a Falcon 9 rocket.

It is the first mission ever launched carrying a wholly private crew operating a private spacecraft, made up of Spanish-American astronaut Michael López-Alegría, US entrepreneur Larry Connor, Israeli entrepreneur and pilot Eytan Stibbe, and Canadian investor Mark Pathy.

The reported price for a ticket – which includes eight days at the station – is a whopping $55 million.

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The team is expected to reach the ISS on Saturday morning at 7:45 AM in a mission run by a three-way partnership between private spaceflight company Axiom, NASA, and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX.

The four members on board are due to stay at the ISS for about a week and are not merely traveling for tourism. They will carry out a number of scientific experiments, including one stem cell project that may help early detection of cancers on Earth.

NASA chief Bill Nelson welcomed the launch as the beginning of a "new era" paying tribute to what he described as a "historic launch."

"We're taking commercial business off the face of the Earth and putting it up in space," Nelson said ahead of lift-off.

Shortly after the launch, the space capsule separated from the rocket stage, which landed upright on a ship off the coast of Florida.

Meanwhile on board, a stuffed toy began to float, indicating that the team had reached zero-gravity.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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