earthbound

Historic mission from Houston space tech company plans for splashdown

Ax-1 is headed back to Earth after 12 days of research on the ISS. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

Editor's note: Undocking was delayed again on April 19, and a new timeline has not been announced. The original story is below.

After spending 12 days in space, a historic commercial space mission will splash back down on Earth this week.

Houston-based Axiom Space’s first mission Axiom mission 1 (Ax-1), which took off April 8 and connected to the International Space Station, has announced its plans for undocking and splashdown.

After some initial bad weather postponed the process, the four-member private astronaut crew now is aiming to undock at about 9 pm tonight, April 19, and then land off the coast of Florida at around 2:24 pm tomorrow, April 20. Just like launch, the coverage of both events will be available at Axiom's website.

The mission on SpaceX’s spacecraft sent four multinational private astronauts — Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, and Mission Specialist Mark Pathy — to the ISS to conduct research and familiarize Axiom with launch, docking, and more.

Axiom Space, which reached $1 billion valuation and joined the Houston unicorn club last year after a $130 million investment round, is working on the first commercial space station to replace the ISS. The first launch of that mission is expected in late 2024. In the meantime, Axiom has a series of commercial launches to the existing station currently in orbit in order to prepare for development and orchestration of Axiom Station.

The Ax-1 mission, which has provided daily updates, has conducted over 20 research projects and even hit a few milestones, including:

  • The first-ever music duet performance in space — Commander López-Alegría and Neo-Classical Piano Prodigy BLKBOK made music and space history with their piano and keyboard duet
  • The Aging and Heart Health investigation, an experiment from the Mayo Clinic — a study that analyzes human cells for genetic markers of cellular aging and explores cardiac-like cells' adaptation to microgravity
  • Observation of Transient Luminous Events — Specialist Stibbe completed a space observation experiment and photographed a lightning storm over Darwin, Australia, to enhance understanding of the electrical processes in the atmosphere and to determine whether there’s a connection with climate change
  • Testing of the Holoportation system — Mission Specialist Pathy set up two-way AI technology that will allow the ability of future crew members to explore deep space with the ability to virtually bring friends, family, and physicians close with them so that they can get an on-Earth experience
  • Several outreach calls to Earth to STEM students from around the world — this included a call to children at Space Center Houston

Axiom shares more details on its mission research projects — which span technologies such as future space habitats, cancer research, and devices to purify air on space stations — online.

“As the first step on a path to building a diverse, thriving economy in low-Earth orbit, Axiom has partnered with leaders in academia and industry to bring new users and new investigations in research to the space station,” says Christian Maender, director of In-space Manufacturing and Research for Axiom Space, in a news release. “The collection of biological and technological tests during the Ax-1 mission represent a breadth of research that will inform everything from human health considerations to novel infrastructure and design for our future homes away from Earth, beginning with Axiom Station.”

The four-person crew spent 12 days on the ISS. Photo courtesy of NASA

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston scored high marks for food, culture, and diversity. Photo viaIdeasLaboratory.com

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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