SpaceX launches second-ever private astronaut mission Ax-2 to the ISS

The all-private Ax-2 mission launched the first Saudi Arabian woman to fly to space.
Chris Young
The launch of Ax-2.
The launch of Ax-2.

SpaceX / Twitter 

The second-ever all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) launched yesterday, May 21.

Axiom Space'x Ax-2 mission launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT) from NASA's iconic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Ax-2's crew of four includes the first Saudi Arabian woman to fly to space.

Ax-2: The second-ever all-private astronaut mission

Shortly after the launch of Ax-2 the SpaceX Falcon 9's first stage booster returned to Earth. Seven minutes and 45 seconds into the mission, the booster performed one of SpaceX's famous rocket landings at SpaceX's Landing Zone-1, not far from Pad 39A.

SpaceX launches second-ever private astronaut mission Ax-2 to the ISS
SpaceX's booster landing.

Ax-2's Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Freedom, separated from the Falcon 9's upper stage roughly 12 minutes after launch, sending it on its way to the ISS.

Shortly after that mission milestone, former NASA astronaut and mission commander Peggy Whitson was heard on the live stream saying it's "good to be here, it was a phenomenal ride!" Whitson has spent 665 days in space, which is more than any American astronaut in history.

The Freedom spacecraft is now approaching the ISS and is scheduled to dock with the orbital station at 9:24 a.m. EDT (1324 GMT) today, May 22. Ax-2 is the second time Freedom has flown to the ISS, the first time being for SpaceX and NASA's Crew-4 mission.

SpaceX and Axiom Space's Ax-2 mission makes history

Ax-2 is an all-private astronaut mission and the successor to last year's Ax-1, both of which were chartered by Houston-based firm Axiom Space. Much like Ax-1, no serving astronauts were involved in Ax-2, though both missions did have former NASA astronauts as commanders — a requirement of NASA for flying to the ISS from US soil.

Though Ax-2 is Axiom Space's second all-private ISS mission, it has achieved several historic firsts. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who was the first woman to serve as commander aboard the ISS, is now also the first woman to command a private crewed mission to space.

Two of the crew members, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, are the first Saudi Arabians to visit the ISS. Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to ever go to space. The fourth and final crew member, US investor John Shoffner, is the first Alaskan to reach orbit, according to SpaceX.

Once docked with the ISS, the Ax-2 crew will spend eight days aboard the orbital station performing a series of duties. They will live and work alongside seven astronauts already aboard the ISS, though they will carry out their own research.

As SpaceX points out on its website, "The crew will conduct over 20 science and technology experiments in areas such as human physiology, physical sciences, and STEAM to help expand knowledge to benefit life on Earth in areas such as healthcare, materials, technology development, and enable industrial advances."