SpaceX and Axiom Space successfully launched NASA’s second all-private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday.
Four crewmembers — two Americans and two Saudi Arabians — lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday at 5:37 p.m 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 on their way to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
They’re scheduled to reach the orbital outpost at 9:16 a.m. ET on Monday, May 22.
The Ax-2 mission launched on schedule, paving the way for the first visit to the ISS by Saudi Arabians, as well as the first space trip by an Alaskan (Shoffner):
Max Q, where the stress on the rocket is at its greatest, occurred at about 60 seconds after launch. This was followed by main engine cutoff at an altitude of 43 miles (70 kilometers) 150 seconds after launch, and then stage separation:
Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth, making a perfect touchdown on Landing Zone 1 close to the launch site at about 7 minutes and 45 seconds after launch. The booster can now be refurbished and used for another SpaceX mission.
Upon arrival, the four crewmembers will join the current crew of seven astronauts on the space station, which is orbiting about 250 miles above Earth.
During their 10-day stay, the Ax-2 crew will carry out more than 20 science and technology 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’s taken part in three long-duration space flights totaling 665 days, more than any other American astronaut or female astronaut globally.
Shoffner is a successful U.S. businessman and investor who’s paid his own way to space, while Alqarni, an experienced pilot, and Barnawi, a biomedical researcher, have been funded by the Saudi Space Commission.