3 people pay $55m each to go to the International Space Station (ISS) on a ship that launched on Sunday. The rocket lifted off at 5.37 pm EDT (2137 UTC) from the NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Axiom Space, a Huston-based company, led the mission with the support of NASA and SpaceX. The AX-2 Mission is the second commercial spaceflight to launch from the US, following the success of the AX-1 mission in April last year.
The AX-2 Mission
According to CNN, a NASA astronaut and 3 paying crew launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket aboard a crew Dragon capsule called Freedom. The spacecraft made a perfect departure despite the stormy weather conditions.
Space reports that the Dragon capsule docked yesterday – 262 miles (421 km) above the Pacific over Northeast Japan. They spent 15 hours maneuvering in space before docking to establish a perfect alignment with the station.
The crew will stay on board the space station for a week and join 7 astronauts already working there. They will work as a team – and carry out scientific investigations, including stem cell and biomedical research.
Axiom expects the Dragon to detach and splashdown off the coast of Florida on May 30th. You can keep up to date with their progress and watch footage on the Axiom website.
The Historical Crew
The AX-2 crew has broken many records. Peggy Whitson is the first female astronaut to head a commercial space flight. Rayyanah Barnawi, a paying passenger, is a stem cell researcher and is the first Saudi Arabian woman in space.
NASA Space Flight reports that Peggy Whitson is a former NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom, and this is her first time in space since 2017.
Whitson is the US record holder for the most time spent in space – she has totalled 665 days in orbit and working aboard the ISS.
According to Space Flight Now, the paying passengers are John Shoffner, an American who founded Dura-line Corp, a hardware company known for its telecom fiber optic cables. Shoffner is an experienced pilot, veteran skydiver, and amateur race car driver.
Two Saudi Arabians join Shoffer, Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, a Saudi Royal Air Force fighter pilot. They are the 2nd and 3rd Saudis in space – the first was Prince Sultan bin Salaman in 1985.
The Future Of Commercial Space Travel
The AX-2 mission isn’t the first commercial flight to the space station. According to CNN Business, Space Adventures did several tourist missions between 2001 and 2009 on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Axiom launched the AX-1 Mission in April of last year, and it was the first tourist mission from the US.
NASA and Axiom hope to send many more commercial flights into low earth orbit and expect more government-sponsored clients like the ones from Saudi Arabia.
Several companies, including Blue Origin, also plan to launch private stations in the next decade.
At $55m a seat, commercial space flights aren’t exactly accessible to everyone. But, the successful AX-2 mission is certainly a step towards affordable space travel in the coming decades.