SpaceX Dragon Endeavour, the Ax-1 spacecraft, returns to Earth today with more than 200 pounds of science and supplies. The first-ever all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station is officially in the books.

A SpaceX Dragon Dragon capsule carrying the four crewmembers of the Ax-1 mission splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida today (April 25), bringing the groundbreaking 17-day flight to a close.

“On behalf of the entire SpaceX team, welcome back to planet Earth,” a SpaceX mission communicator told the Ax-1 crew just after splashdown.

Ax-1 was organized by the Houston company Axiom Space and commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who is now Axiom’s vice president of business development. He was joined on the mission by three paying customers — American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, each of whom is thought to have paid about $55 million for his seat.

Ax-1 lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 8 and docked with the ISS a day later.

While living in the orbiting lab, the private astronauts conducted more than 25 scientific experiments in a range of fields, from human health and medicine to Earth observation and physical science.

The Ax-1 crewmembers ended up having substantially more time to perform these experiments than they initially thought. The mission was supposed to leave the ISS on April 19 and return to Earth a day later, but bad weather boiled up in the splashdown zone off the Florida coast and persisted, delaying the Dragon’s departure until Sunday night (April 24).

Ax-1 will be just the beginning for Axiom Space if all goes according to plan. The company has booked several additional missions to the orbiting lab, which will all be flown by SpaceX. 

The next one, Ax-2, is scheduled to launch later this year and will be commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other American. Like López-Alegría, she now works for Axiom, serving as the company’s director of human spaceflight.

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