Private Mission’s Third Team of Astronauts Successfully Land Back on Earth After Space Station Visit: Ax-3 Splashdown Complete!

The Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), a private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), marked a significant step in NASA’s initiative to foster a commercial space economy. This mission, which successfully completed its journey, emphasized the increasing accessibility and commercial opportunities in low Earth orbit. The Ax-3 crew, consisting of astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Marcus Wandt, and Alper Gezeravci, safely returned to Earth aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, landing off the coast of Daytona, Florida.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which carried the Ax-3 crew, touched down at 8:30 a.m. EST on February 9, after a nearly 22-day mission, including 18 days on the ISS. Upon landing, SpaceX recovery vessels retrieved the spacecraft and its astronauts, marking a successful conclusion of their mission.

Phil McAlister, the director of NASA’s commercial space division, emphasized the importance of this mission in the context of NASA’s broader ambitions for commercial space. According to McAlister, low Earth orbit is now within humanity’s economic sphere of influence, which presents significant opportunities for the U.S. commercial space sector to capture new global and domestic markets. This mission, McAlister added, is part of a larger effort to open space to more people, research, and opportunities, in anticipation of the transition to future private space stations by the end of this decade.

The Ax-3 crew launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 18, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. After approximately 37 hours, the Dragon docked to the Harmony module’s forward port on the ISS. The astronauts then undocked from the same port to begin their return journey.

While on the ISS, the Ax-3 crew conducted over 30 science experiments and partook in educational outreach and commercial activities. The spacecraft, now back in Florida, will undergo inspection and processing at SpaceX’s refurbishing facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Here, teams will analyze the spacecraft’s data and performance throughout the flight.

As part of NASA’s strategy, supporting private astronaut missions like Ax-3 is crucial in creating a vibrant commercial economy in orbit, where NASA aims to be one of many customers. This approach opens access to low Earth orbit and the ISS to more people, science, and commercial opportunities, thus expanding the scope of human spaceflight history.

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