The four astronauts on the private Ax-2 mission returned to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule late Tuesday night (May 30).
That dragon, called Freedom, exited the International Space Station (ISS) earlier in the day at 11:05 a.m. EDT (1505 GMT), ending a 10-day mission that included eight docked days at the orbiting laboratory. Freedom returned to Earth 12 hours later with a flawless landing in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on May 31), ending the Ax-2 mission by SpaceX to Houston- Axiom Space based company.
“SpaceX, we’d like to tell you, it’s been an extraordinary flight,” said Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut and expert on four spaceflights immediately after the crash. “We really enjoyed all of it.”
Related: Special Ax-2 astronauts give a warm welcome to the space station (VIDEO)
Read more: Ax-2 spaceflight with SpaceX: live updates
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Ax-2 is the second mission to the International Space Station operated by Axiom Space, following Ax-1 in April 2022. That previous mission was the first fully manned flight to the orbiting laboratory.
The Ax-2 was under the command of Whitson, the record-breaking former NASA astronaut who is now director of human spaceflight at Axiom Space. His other classmates were John Shoffner, Ali Al-Qarni and Rayana Barnawi.
Shoffner was a paid Axiom Space customer, and Al-Qarni and Bernawi are members of the first Saudi astronaut class at the Saudi Space Authority. The latter duo were the first Saudis to visit the International Space Station, and Bernawi became the first woman from the kingdom ever to reach space.
Only one person from Saudi Arabia has been to space before the Ax-2 – Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew on the STS-51-G mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985.
“Every story ends, and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region,” Al-Barnawi said during a farewell ceremony on the International Space Station on Monday (May 29).
“So, [I’d] I just want to thank everyone who helped us here.”
And Whitson – who has spent more time in space than any American and any other woman – also choked during the farewell ceremony. (Her spaceflight record was 665 days prior to the launch of Ax-2. She is also the first woman to command a private space mission.)
“These guys, they welcomed us on board,” said the Ax-2 commander, referring to the crew members of the current ISS Expedition 69 mission. “They helped us a lot, but they were also very polite and nice. And we really appreciated all of that; we felt at home.” While we’re here. Thank you, and I’ll be back!”
More SpaceX Dragons will be making their way to the International Space Station in the near future, if all goes according to plan.
A robotic version of the capsule is scheduled to launch on a cargo mission to the orbiting laboratory on Saturday (June 3), for example. The Crew Dragon Endurance will fly four people to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew-7 mission for NASA, which is scheduled to launch in August.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:15 PM ET on May 30 with farewell quotes from Rihanna Barnawi and Peggy Whitson.
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