The four astronauts on the special Ax-2 mission are scheduled to head back to Earth today (May 30), and you can watch the action live.
The hatches between SpaceX’s Dragon capsule for Ax-2, called Freedom, and the International Space Station (ISS) are scheduled to close at 9:10 a.m. EDT (1310 GMT) today. You can watch the achievement live here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, starting at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).
Freedom will separate from the orbiting laboratory at 11:05 AM EDT (1505 GMT), if all goes according to plan. Follow along here at Space.com starting at 10:45 a.m. EST (1445 GMT), again courtesy of NASA TV. The capsule will return to our planet for a splash of water at 11:02 p.m. EDT (0302 GMT on May 31). You can watch Freedom’s return here on Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, starting at 10 p.m. EST (0200 GMT on May 31).
Related: SpaceX launches an Ax-2 private astronaut mission to the station, the first Saudi woman in space on board (video)
Read more: Axiom Space Ax-2 Private Spaceflight with SpaceX: Live Updates
The Ax-2 launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 21 and arrived at the International Space Station the next day.
The private mission, operated by Axiom Space, is piloted by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who now works for the Houston-based company. Other pay mates are Agent John Shoffner, Ali Al-Qarni, and Rayana Barnawi, both members of Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut class.
The Saudi duo were the first people from the kingdom to visit the International Space Station, and Bernawi became the first Saudi woman ever to reach space.
The four Ax-2 astronauts assisted in more than 20 science experiments during their eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory and also conducted a variety of outreach and educational activities. Al-Qarni and Al-Barnawi have been particularly busy with outreach work, as Saudi Arabia views their mission as a golden opportunity to spark a love of science and engineering in the nation’s youth.
As its name suggests, Ax-2 is the second mission flown by Axiom Space to the International Space Station. The first, Ax-1, will send four people to the SpaceX Dragon in April 2022.
Axiom plans to continue to lead such missions over the next few years, but it also has larger goals in mind. The company intends to launch a few units to the International Space Station starting in 2025. These units will then be separated from the orbiting laboratory in the late 2020s to become a free-flying private outpost in low Earth orbit.
NASA fully supports this effort. The space agency encourages the development of private space stations, with the hope that at least one will be operational before the International Space Station is retired at the end of 2030.
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