Axiom Space’s Axiom-2 (AX-2) mission returned to Earth late at night on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. The mission commanded by record-setting astronaut Peggy Whitson spent ten days in space.
Florida residents reported hearing a sonic boom as it headed for a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico late Tuesday night. Some Floridians called 911, thinking they had heard an explosion or a tree fell on their house. Santa Rosa County Emergency Management issued a statement clarifying that it was only a SpaceX Crew Dragon returning to Earth.
Crew members also included businessman John Shoffner, stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarner. Saudi Arabia paid for Rayyanah Barnawi’s and Ali al-Qarner’s rides to the International Space Station. Barnawi, the first Saudi woman in space, was especially interested in working on stem cell samples that the Crew Dragon had also carried to the International Space Station as part of her research.
“Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region,” she said shortly before the Crew Dragon undocked from the International Space Station to get into position for reentry.
Peggy Whitson added to her record amount of time in space with this latest mission. She had served on the International Space Station three times and logged 665 days in space as a NASA astronaut. This set an American record for longest total amount of time spent in space and put Peggy Whitson in eighth place worldwide for most time in space.
During her first ISS mission, Expedition 5, she became NASA’s first Science Officer. She also commanded Expedition 16 and served on Expedition 50/51.
Axiom-2 brought her total up to 675 days in space. She said those ten days seem to fly by.
“Can you believe we landed less than 48 hours ago?” she said during a press conference on Thursday.
Axiom Space plans a series of four flights to prepare for the arrival of its first inflatable modules, which will be delivered to the International Space Station as early as 2025. If everything goes as planned, the Axiom Space-owned modules will spin off into one of the first independent, privately owned space stations.
NASA is one of several potential customers that could rent space on Axiom Space’s space station once the International Space Station is retired. Then NASA and its partners can focus on the Artemis lunar landings and construction of the Lunar Gateway.
Axiom-1, commanded by Michael Lopez-Alegria, launched in April 2022. Besides working on initial preparations, Axiom-1 conducted dozens of experiments on the space station. Its return to Earth got delayed by bad weather at the landing site.
Other companies working on privately owned space stations include Vast, which recently selected SpaceX to launch the first components. Bigelow Aerospace made some early progress on a private space station and launched an inflatable module to the ISS, but had to give up due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over funding from NASA. It also seemed to butt heads with then-NASA Administrator Charles Bolden over progress on its space station.