SpaceX's Dragon capsule Ax-2 crew performs successful splashdown

Bringing an end to a 10-day mission that lifted the first Saudi Arabian woman to go to space.
Chris Young
Dragon after the splashdown.
Dragon after the splashdown.

SpaceX / Twitter 

The all-private Ax-2 astronaut mission returned to Earth aboard its SpaceX Dragon capsule late on Tuesday, May 30.

The Ax-2 crew boarded the Crew Dragon freedom capsule and undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:05 am EDT (1505 GMT) the same day, bringing an end to a mission that lasted 10 days.

Freedom performed a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida at 11:04 pm EDT and the crew was subsequently picked up at sea.

The return of Axiom Space's all-private Ax-2 mission

The Ax-2 mission, charted by Houston-based Axiom Space, became the second-ever all-private astronaut mission to go to ISS when it took to the skies on May 21. The first all-private astronaut mission to the ISS was last year's Ax-1 mission, which launched in April 2022.

Much like Ax-1 before it, this year's mission had no serving astronauts on the crew, though former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson did serve as the mission commander. The rest of the crew was made up of Rayyanah Barnawi, Ali AlQarni, and John Shoffner. Barnawi and AlQarni were the first Saudi Arabians to visit the ISS, and Barnawi was the first Saudi woman to fly to space.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule Ax-2 crew performs successful splashdown
Dragon Freedom shortly after recovery.

Shortly after splashdown, Whitson, who has spent 675 days in space, more than any American astronaut in history, was heard during the livestream saying, "SpaceX, we would like to tell you, that was a phenomenal ride. We really enjoyed all of it." Whitson currently serves as Axiom Space's director of human spaceflight.

Ax-2 is "the beginning of a new era"

During a farewell ceremony on the ISS on Monday, May 29, Barnawi, Saudi Arabia's first woman to go to space, said "Every story comes to an end, and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region. So, [I'd] just like to thank everyone here who has helped us."

Whitson, who is also now the first woman to command a private space mission, said "These guys, they welcomed us onboard, and they've helped us a lot, but they've also just been so courteous and kind. And we really appreciate all of that; we felt at home while we were here. Thank you, and I will be back!"

The next private astronaut mission chartered by Axiom Space, Ax-3, is expected to launch no earlier than November 2023, and former NASA astronaut and Ax-1 commander Michael López-Alegría will be commander for that mission. A crew of serving astronauts is expected to fly to the ISS in August for SpaceX and NASA's Crew-7 mission.

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