- SpaceX delivered another quartet of astronauts to the International Space Station on Monday morning.
- Axiom Space booked the approximately week-long trip, known as the Ax-2 mission, to the ISS with Elon Musk’s company.
- The private flight is carrying two Americans and two Saudis, including the first woman to fly in space from the Arab nation.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “Freedom” is seen docking with the International Space Station on May 22, 2023.
SpaceX delivered another quartet of astronauts to the International Space Station on Monday morning, on a private flight that included government astronauts from Saudi Arabia, as the Arab kingdom taps American companies to expand its ambitions in space.
Axiom Space booked the approximately week-long trip, known as the Ax-2 mission, to the ISS with Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX launched the four people Sunday evening from Florida. Its Falcon 9 rocket was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and the company’s Crew Dragon capsule “Freedom” reached the ISS about 16 hours later.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, USA – MAY 21: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for Axiom Space Mission 2 (Ax-2) on May 21, 2023 in Cape Canaveral, Florida . The four-person private astronaut Ax-2 crew, which will spend eight days on the International Space Station, includes former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, pilot John Shoffner and Saudi Space Commission astronauts Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Saudi woman to to fly to space. (Photo by Paul Hennesy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Ax-2 is commanded by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson – who has spent more time in space than any other American or woman – and piloted by businessman and race car driver John Shoffner, who bought a seat on the flight through Axiom. Whitson is also Axiom’s director of human spaceflight.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia purchased the last two seats on Axiom’s mission, with Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni flying as mission specialists. Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to fly in space.
The mission will feature a busy list of research and technology experiments with over 20 different scientific studies.
For SpaceX, the Ax-2 mission is the company’s 10th human spaceflight. The company has flown seven government-mandated crewed missions and three private flights since launching astronauts for the first time in May 2020.
The mission included the first time SpaceX returned a Falcon 9 booster to land back near the launch site, rather than on a ship in the ocean, after a crewed launch. The company continues to expand the technical capacity of its fleet.
This was also the second launch of the company’s reusable “Freedom” capsule, which previously carried NASA’s Crew-4 mission on a six-month mission to and from the ISS.
Axiom and SpaceX have not disclosed financial details about the Ax-2 mission. NASA has previously revealed that a SpaceX crew launch costs about $55 million per seat, so the cost of these private missions is expected to be high. Axiom has booked four crewed flights from SpaceX to date.
Although SpaceX provides the rocket and capsule, Axiom manages the mission from training to return to Earth.