SpaceX and Axiom Space successfully launched NASA’s second all-private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday.
Four crew members – two Americans and two Saudis – took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday at 5:37 PM ET.
Peggy Whitson, mission commander and Axiom Space’s director of human spaceflight; John Shoffner, pilot; Ali Alqarni, mission specialist; and Rayyanah Barnawi, mission specialist, are currently en route to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
They are scheduled to reach the orbital outpost at 9:16 a.m. ET Monday, May 22.
The Ax-2 mission was launched on schedule and paved the way for the first visit to the ISS by Saudis, as well as the first spaceflight by an Alaskan (Shoffner):
Max Q, where the load on the rocket is greatest, occurred about 60 seconds after launch. This was followed by main engine cutoff at an altitude of 43 miles (70 kilometers) 150 seconds after liftoff, and then stage separation:
After stage separation, the Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth and made a perfect touchdown on Landing Zone 1 near the launch site about 7 minutes and 45 seconds after launch. The booster can now be refurbished and used for another SpaceX mission.
Upon arrival, the four crew members will join the current crew of seven astronauts on the space station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth.
During their 10-day stay, the Ax-2 crew will conduct more than 20 scientific and technological experiments in areas such as human physiology and physical sciences for research that could lead to benefits in healthcare and technology development, among other areas.
Whitson is a retired NASA astronaut who has participated in three long-duration spaceflights totaling 665 days, more than any other American astronaut or female astronaut globally.
Shoffner is a successful American businessman and investor who paid his own way to space, while Alqarni, an experienced pilot, and Barnawi, a biomedical researcher, have been funded by the Saudi Space Commission.