SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “Freedom” launches to the International Space Station on May 22, 2023.
SpaceX delivered another quartet of astronauts to the International Space Station Monday morning, aboard a special flight that included government astronauts from Saudi Arabia as the kingdom taps American companies to expand its ambitions in space.
Axiom Space has booked a nearly week-long trip, known as the Ax-2 mission, to the International Space Station with Elon Musk. SpaceX launched the four people Sunday night from Florida. A Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and the company’s Crew Dragon capsule “Freedom” arrived at the International Space Station about 16 hours later.
CAPE CANAVAL, FL, UNITED STATES – MAY 21: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center for Axiom Space Mission 2 (Ax-2) on May 21, 2023 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The four-person crew of the Ax-2 Special Astronaut, who will spend eight days on the International Space Station, includes former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, pilot John Shoffner, Saudi Space Agency astronauts Ali Al-Qarni and Rayana Barnawi, the first Saudi woman to fly. to space. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Ax-2 is piloted by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson–who has spent more time in space than any other American or woman–and is helmed by businessman and auto racer John Shoffner, who has purchased a seat on the flight through the Axiom. Whitson is also the Director of Human Spaceflight at Axiom.
Saudi Arabia bought the final two seats in the Axiom mission, with Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni as mission specialists. Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to fly in space.
The assignment will include a busy list of research and technology experiments, with more than 20 different scientific papers.
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For SpaceX, the Ax-2 mission is the company’s tenth human spaceflight. The company has flown seven government-booked crewed missions and three private flights since first launching astronauts in May 2020.
The mission marked the first time that SpaceX returned the Falcon 9 booster to land near the launch site, rather than a ship in the ocean, after the crew had launched. The company continues to expand the technical capabilities 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 International Space Station.
Axiom and SpaceX did not disclose financial details about the Ax-2 mission. NASA previously revealed that a SpaceX crew launch costs about $55 million per seat, so the price for these special missions is expected to be high. Axiom has booked four crewed SpaceX flights so far.
Although SpaceX provides the rocket and capsule, Axiom leads mission management from training to returning to Earth.