SpaceX Dragon capsule arrives at pad for Ax-3 astronaut launch (photos) (Image Credit: Space.com)
SpaceX continues to gear up for its next astronaut mission.
The Dragon capsule that will carry those folks to the orbiting lab and back has now arrived at Pad 39A’s hangar, SpaceX announced today (Jan. 12) in a post on X that featured photos of the spacecraft in its new surroundings.
Ax-3 is the third mission to the ISS organized by Houston company Axiom Space. Like its two predecessors, which launched in April 2022 and May 2023, Ax-3 will employ SpaceX hardware — the Falcon 9 rocket as well as the Dragon capsule.
Ax-3’s crew consists of former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría; Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei, who also flew to suborbital space with Virgin Galactic in June 2023; Marcus Wandt of the European Space Agency; and Alper Gezeravcı, who will become the first citizen of Turkey to reach space.
López-Alegría, who now works for Axiom, will command the mission. (NASA requires that every private crewed mission to the ISS be led by a former agency astronaut.) He’s a dual Spanish-American citizen, giving Ax-3 an unprecedented international flavor.
“The Ax-3 mission will be transformational, as it fosters partnerships outside the construct of the ISS, and positions European nations as pioneers of the emerging commercial space industry,” López-Alegría said in an Axiom statement in September 2023, when the crewmembers were announced.
Ax-3 will be the 12th astronaut mission for SpaceX. In addition to the two Axiom flights, Elon Musk‘s company has launched eight crewed missions for NASA (including the Demo-2 test flight in 2020) and the private Inspiration4 effort. All of these missions visited the ISS except Inspiration4, on which Dragon flew freely in Earth orbit.
One SpaceX mission remains at the orbiting lab — the four-person Crew-7, which launched last August and is scheduled to return to Earth next month.