The four astronauts of the private Ax-2 spacecraft are scheduled to return to Earth later Tuesday (May 30) aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which you can watch live.
The Dragon, named Freedom, lifted off from the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:05 a.m. EDT (1505 GMT) the previous day, completing a 10-day mission that included eight days at the orbiting lab. At 11:04 pm EDT (0304 GMT on May 31) in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, Freedom returned to Earth 12 hours after completing SpaceX’s Ax-2 mission to Houston. Axiom Space based company.
“SpaceX, we want to tell you, it’s been an amazing ride,” Ax-2 commander Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut and veteran of four space missions, said after the splashdown. “We really enjoyed it all.”
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read more: Ax-2 Spaceflight with SpaceX: Live Updates
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After Ax-1 in April 2022, Ax-2 will be the second mission to the ISS operated by Axiom Space. That previous mission was the first all-private crewed flight to an orbiting laboratory.
Ax-2 was commanded by Whitson, an accomplished former NASA astronaut who now serves as director of human spaceflight at Axiom Space. Other employees include John Shofner, Ali Alkarni and Rayana Barnawi.
Shoffner is a paying customer of Axiom Space, and Algarni and Barnawi are members of the Saudi Space Agency’s first astronaut class. The latter twins were the first Saudis to visit the ISS and Barnawi was the first woman from the kingdom to reach space.
Only one man from Saudi Arabia had gone into space before Ax-2 — Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew on STS-51-G aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985.
“Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region,” Barnawi said during a farewell ceremony on the ISS on Monday (May 29).
“Therefore, [I’d] I want to thank everyone here who helped us,” he added, fighting back tears.
Whitson — who has spent more time in space than any other American and any other woman — choked up during the ceremony. (Her spaceflight record was 665 days before the launch of Ax-2. She was also the first woman to command a private space mission.)
“These guys, they welcomed us aboard,” the Ax-2 commander said, referring to the crew of the ISS’s current Expedition 69 mission. “They’ve helped us a lot, but they’ve also been very respectful and kind. We really appreciate it all; we felt at home when we were here. Thank you, I’ll be back!”
If all goes according to plan, more SpaceX Dragons will be heading to the ISS in the near future.
A robotic version of the capsule is scheduled to launch this Saturday (June 3) on a cargo mission to the orbiting lab. And Crew Dragon Endurance will fly four people to the ISS on SpaceX’s Crew-7 mission for NASA, which is scheduled to lift off in August.
Editor’s note: This story was updated May 30 at 5:15 p.m. ET, with departure-ceremony quotes from Rayanna Barnavi and Becky Whitson.