Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission is the first privately crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and Western is going along for the ride.
Researchers at the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space) have worked with Canadian Mark Pathy, who is one of the astronauts boarding Ax-1, to help the entrepreneur and philanthropist fulfill the theme of his 10-day mission plan: Caring for People and the Planet.
Pathy initially partnered with private Canadian space company Leap Biosystems (Leap) for pre-flight planning, working with Leap’s chief information officer and former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut candidate Dr. Adam Sirek, a professor at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a Western Space member.
Leap, led by retired CSA astronaut Dr. Dave Williams, developed and integrated the science payload for Pathy’s mission, selecting the experiments and training for the first-time astronaut.
“We’ve been working directly with Mark from the beginning of his decision to go to space. None of the paying astronauts were required to do science, but they all have an interest in giving back. Mark is really interested in doing more than just hanging out up there and looking out the window, which is probably what I would do if given the chance,” Sirek laughingly said.
As the planning progressed, Sirek sought further expertise on Earth observation and connected with Western Space planetary scientist Gordon Osinski, who has led analogue space missions and trained CSA and NASA astronauts for nearly two decades. Once on board, Osinski tapped biologist Danielle Way and geographer James Voogt to join the mission, and the team got to work with selecting targets for Pathy to capture with a specialized 80-400mm photographic camera lens.
“Mark’s mission is so important because he is using his time in space to learn more about the world and make it better,” said Osinski. “The fact that Western students will also benefit is an added bonus.”
With the targets approved, Western Space research coordinator Eric Pilles and several faculty members at Western Space are now leading a team of students, who will assist with categorizing, describing and analyzing the images and relevant data. The images will be hosted at NASA Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.
“The students are really excited to participate in the mission, and some of the images, which are essentially Western images, will be featured in the NASA database, which goes back to the earliest photos taken by astronauts in space,” said Pilles.
The Western students supporting Pathy’s Ax-1 mission, include Neeraja Chinchalkar, Juan Jaimes Bermudez, Jamie Graff, Jack Hostrawser, Lauren Stone and Paige Julianna Cincio.
The Western-selected Earth observations are part of an integrated research payload that Pathy will complete during the space mission on behalf of the CSA, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and other universities across Canada.
“Western Space is proud to participate in this new era of privately crewed spaceflights with a mission that integrates science into its core. It is hard to overstate the value of Earth observations from space – we can learn so much from above,” said Western Space director Sarah Gallagher. “I can’t wait to see the images!”
Liftoff for the Ax-1 mission is now set for Friday, April 8, at 11:17 a.m. EDT.