Seventeen days after they left Earth, the first fully private space crew has safely returned to terra firma. A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the four AX-1 astronauts splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida at around 1:06 PM ET.
The capsule undocked from the ISS at 9:10PM ET on Sunday to begin a 16-hour return journey. Axiom Space, NASA and SpaceX agreed to an adjusted return plan based on the weather forecast at the landing site. The mission ultimately lasted almost twice as long as initially planned. Despite the delay, the return trip went smoothly.
The crew — commander and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría and businessmen Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy — conducted some experiments during their time on the International Space Station. They brought back more than 200 pounds of supplies and scientific materials, including some samples for NASA.
Axiom Space, which operated the AX-1 mission, is expected to launch more private flights to the ISS in the coming years. It will also build the first commercial module at the ISS as well as a connected module containing a film studio and sports arena. Axiom Station is expected to split from the ISS in 2028. It will then operate independently. NASA plans to deorbit the ISS in January 2031 and direct it to a capture trajectory over the Pacific Ocean.