Congrats on an outstanding mission: Ax-2 astronauts returned to Earth!

31st May 2023
Congrats on an outstanding mission: Ax-2 astronauts returned to Earth!

Update: 31st May – Re-entry

After more than a week of science, outreach, and on-orbit activities, an all-private astronaut crew of two Americans and two Saudis, including the first Arab woman sent into orbit, splashed down safely off Florida, ending the mission aboard the International Space Station.

The Ax2 crew returned to Earth in their SpaceX Dragon capsule late Tuesday night at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on May 31).

The four Axiom Space Ax-2 astronauts wave inside their SpaceX Dragon capsule Freedom after splashdown and recovery in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. Credit: SpaceX

30th May – Returning

After over a week in space, the four astronauts are set to return to Earth. The quartet are scheduled to undock from the space station on Tuesday, 30th of May. You can watch the undocking live online, via NASA TV, at 13:00 GMT (19 a.m. EDT). Undocking is scheduled for 16:05 GMT (11:05 a.m. EDT).

The beginning

Sunday, 21st May, was a historic day in space exploration. Axiom Space, NASA, and SpaceX mission managers have completed the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) for Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) to go to the International Space Station (ISS). This may not seem surprising, considering how many launches SpaceX has been responsible for in Q1. However, this rocket carried the first Arab woman to go to space, Rayyanah Barnawai. As SpaceX launches Ax-2 and delivers the crew to the ISS, OT will keep updating you here.

Welcome on ISS

Axiom Mission 2 astronauts are now aboard the ISS, according to NASA officials. The Dragon’s hatch opened to welcome the astronauts at 11 a.m. EDT on Monday, 22 May, at 4 p.m. in the UK. 

The four astronauts joined 69 Expedition crew members aboard the station, including Roscosmos cosmonauts Dmitri Petelin, Andrey Fedyaev, and Sergey Prokopyev, as well as NASA astronauts Woody Hoburg and Frank Rubio. 

The occasion was marked with a welcome ceremony, with all members being pinned the Universal Astronaut Insignia.

A team of four are on their way to the ISS

Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is the second-ever private astronaut mission.

The mission, sponsored by the Saudi government, saw Ms. Baranawai, a breast cancer researcher, joined by fellow Saudi and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni, as well as their crew, John Shoffner and Peggy Whitson. Mr. Shoffner is a Tennessee businessman serving as a pilot, and Ms. Whitson is an ex-NASA astronaut who’s going on her fourth flight to the ISS.

Axiom declined to specify how much Saudi Arabia and Tennessee billionaire Shoffner are paying for the planned 10-day mission. The corporation has previously stated that each ticket would cost $55 million.

Hello from outer space!

After settling into orbit, Barnawi had the following to say:

“Hello from outer space! It feels amazing to be viewing Earth from this capsule.”

The four-person Axiom-2 crew (top row) with the seven-person Expedition 69 crew. Credit: NASA

A pleasure and honour

Ms. Barnawai has spoken about her pride and honour of being the first Saudi female astronaut to voyage into space.

She also mentioned that, apart from being excited about conducting research on board, she’s looking forward to sharing her experience while on the ISS with her children:

“Being able to see their faces when they see astronauts from their own region for the first time is very thrilling.”

A week in space

The four are expected to reach the space station in their capsule within the coming hours. NASA officials say the SpaceX Dragon capsule will now dock with the International Space Station at 9:24 a.m. EDT (2:24 pm London time).

The four will spend just over a week at the ISS before they return home with a splashdown off the coast of Florida. 

21st May: SpaceX launches Ax-2

SpaceX launches Ax-2 from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 2138 GMT!

The first Saudis to ride a rocket since 1985

The last time a Saudi went into space was in 1985 when a Saudi prince travelled on a space shuttle. This time, they will not be alone, however. Once they arrive at the station, they’ll be greeted by an astronaut from the UAE.

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