Four Private Astronauts Are Now on the International Space Station

On Sunday, May 21, the 4-person crew of Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and today, May 22, the private astronaut crew boarded the International Space Station for a scheduled 10-day stay.

Commander (and former NASA astronaut) Peggy Whitson, pilot and businessman John Shoffner, and Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni — a captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force — and Rayyanah Barnawi, a biomedical researcher, will do scientific research, public outreach, and other commercial activities for their stay in space.

This is the second all-private Axiom mission to the ISS. The Ax-1 mission launched in April, 2022. There have been several previous private flights to the ISS; Space Adventures flew 9 private astronaut missions to the ISS, and Russia flew a film crew consisting of two people.

Ax-2 docked to the ISS at 9:12 a.m. EDT and hatches were opened at 11 a.m. EDT. Waiting there to greet the new crew to the ISS were Expedition 69 crew members Frank Rubio, Woody Hoburg, and Stephen Bowen (all from NASa), UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, as well as Roscosmos cosmonauts Dmitri Petelin, Andrey Fedyaev, and Sergey Prokopyev.

“Congratulations to Axiom, SpaceX, and the Axiom Mission 2 crew on a successful launch! During their time aboard the International Space Station, the Ax-2 astronauts will carry out more than 20 scientific experiments, helping us better understand space radiation, weather in low-gravity conditions, and more,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, in a NASA blog post. “This mission is more proof of NASA’s commitment to help our industry partners develop the next generation of space technology and a support a growing commercial space economy.”

Axiom-2 crew from left to right: Mission Specialist Ali Alqarni, Mission Specialist Rayyanah Barnawi, Commander Dr. Peggy Whitson, and Pilot John Shoffner. (Credit: Axiom Space/Vytal/Chris Zuponcic)

Whitson holds the record for most days spent in space by an American astronaut (665), conducting the most spacewalks by a woman (10), and the first woman to command the ISS (Expedition 16). After retiring from NASA in June 2018, she became a consultant for Axiom Space and now holds the distinction of being the first woman to command a private space mission.

Learn more about the rest of the Ax-2 crew in our preview of the mission here.

Axiom Space astronauts are expected to depart the space station May 30, pending weather, for a return to Earth and splashdown off the coast of Florida.