SpaceX launches 4 private citizens, including 2 Saudis, on commercial flight to space station (2023)


By William Harwood

/ CBS News

Ax-2 space mission launches to ISS

(Video) SpaceX launches 4 private citizens to international space station

A legendary astronaut, two Saudis and a wealthy adventurer blasted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Sunday for a trip to the International Space Station, the second "private astronaut mission" aimed at opening the high frontier to commercial development.

The nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9's first stage roared to life at 5:37 p.m. EDT, quickly throttled up to 1.7 million pounds of thrust and smoothly pushed the rocket away from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Arcing away on a northeasterly trajectory, the slender rocket put on a spectacular weekend sky show, thrilling thousands of area residents and tourists lining nearby roads and beaches before disappearing into a high deck of clouds.

SpaceX launches 4 private citizens, including 2 Saudis, on commercial flight to space station (1)

Monitoring the automated ascent from their seats in the Crew Dragon "Freedom" capsule were commander Peggy Whitson and co-pilot John Shoffner, flanked on the left and right by first-time Saudi fliers Ali Alqarni, a veteran F-16 fighter pilot, and biomedical researcher Rayyanah Barnawi.

Whitson, now retired from NASA, is America's most experienced astronaut, with 665 days in space and 10 spacewalks to her credit during three earlier missions. Shoffner, a retired fiber optics entrepreneur, is a veteran private pilot, high-performance race car driver and skydiver.

Shoffner paid Axiom an undisclosed amount for his seat aboard the Crew Dragon while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia covered the costs of its two astronauts. Whitson, now director of human spaceflight for Axiom Space, flew as part of the company charter.

SpaceX launches 4 private citizens, including 2 Saudis, on commercial flight to space station (2)

"I wanted to be able to fly in space again," Whitson said after her final NASA mission, "but the realistic part of Peggy said, no, you're not likely to be able to. And so, it's just a thrill and a half to have this opportunity to fly for Axiom."

After boosting the rocket out of the thick lower atmosphere, the reusable first stage, making its maiden flight, fell away and headed for landing back at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station while the Falcon 9's second stage continued the push to orbit.

(Video) Watch #SpaceX launch 4 humans to the ISS & land the booster back on land!

In past Crew Dragon flights, booster stages landed on offshore barges and were towed back to shore for refurbishment and reuse. But past experience showed actual performance was better than expected, leaving enough propellant on board to reverse course and return to the launch site. Heralded by twin sonic booms, the Ax-2 first stage dropped out of the clouds and settled to a picture perfect touchdown eight minutes after liftoff.

One minute later, the Crew Dragon capsule slipped into orbit and separated from the Falcon 9 second stage.

"Thanks for putting your trust in the Falcon 9 team, hope you enjoyed the ride to space," radioed SpaceX chief engineer Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's former director of spaceflight operations. "Have a great trip on Dragon. Welcome home to zero G, Peggy."

"It's good to be here," Whitson replied from orbit. "It was a phenomenal ride!"

If all goes well, the crew will monitor an automated rendezvous with the space station, catching up with the lab complex Monday morning and moving in for docking at the forward Harmony module's space-facing port at 9:16 a.m.

They'll be welcomed aboard by Expedition 69 commander Sergey Prokopyev and his two Soyuz MS-23 crewmates, Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, along with NASA Crew 6 fliers Steve Bowen, Woody Hoburg, cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi.

SpaceX launches 4 private citizens, including 2 Saudis, on commercial flight to space station (3)

Alneyadi, the second UAE flier to reach space, is the first Arab astronaut to serve as a long-duration crew member aboard the ISS. With the arrival of Alqarni and Barnawi, three of the station's 11 crew members will represent the Middle East.

"I think it is a great opportunity that the three of us can be aboard the International Space Station," Alqarni said. "(That) will hold a big message that we can be sending out to inspire people. And that means for us, as the Arab world, we are holding hands, we are working together for the betterment of humanity."

The Ax-2 flight is the second private astronaut mission, or PAM, to the International Space Station chartered by Axiom. NASA plans to sanction up to two PAM missions each year to encourage private-sector development in low-Earth orbit.

(Video) LIVE: SpaceX launches Axiom-2, carrying four astronauts to the ISS

Axiom Space is using the missions to gain the expertise needed to begin building a stand-alone commercial space station that can be used by government and private-sector astronauts and researchers after the International Space Station is retired at the end of the decade.

In the near term, the missions also provide a way for serious, technically competent private citizens and governments without access to space to visit the ISS for research and public outreach — goals encouraged by NASA.

SpaceX launches 4 private citizens, including 2 Saudis, on commercial flight to space station (4)

Alqarni and Barnawi are the second and third Saudis to fly in space after Sultan Salman Al-Saud flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985. They will be the first Saudis to visit the space station and Barnawi will become the first Saudi woman to fly in space.

During an eight-day stay, Whitson, Shoffner, Alqarni and Barnawi plan to carry out 20 research projects, 14 of them developed by Saudi scientists, that range from human physiology, cell biology and technology development.

"Research has been my passion in life," Barnawi said at a pre-launch news conference. "This is a great opportunity for me to represent the country, to represent their dreams. ... This is a dream come true for everyone."

Along with a full slate of experiments, the crew will participate in live broadcasts to school kids across Saudi Arabia as part of a STEM initiative to build interest in science and technology.

"This is a huge, huge event in Saudi Arabia," said Derek Hassmann, Axiom chief of mission integration and operations. "During the time they're docked to ISS, there is a whole series of media events scheduled.

"One of the focuses of many of these events is interacting with school-aged children in Saudi Arabia. And that was one of the reasons, just the timing of the school year, that we're very interested in getting this flight done in May. They have a whole series of post-flight events planned as well."

Barnawi said, "We are here as STEM educators for the kids to be (attracted) to math and science, technology, to know that they can do more."

(Video) Replay! SpaceX launches Axiom Space Ax-2 crew to space station - Full Broadcast

Whitson and her crewmates plan to undock from the station on May 30. After a fiery plunge back into the lower atmosphere, the Crew Dragon will make a parachute descent to splashdown off the coast of Florida where SpaceX recovery crews will be standing by.

"I'm honored to be heading back to the ISS for the fourth time, leading this talented Ax-2 crew on their first mission," Whitson said in an Axiom statement. "This is a strong and cohesive team determined to conduct meaningful scientific research in space and inspire a new generation about the benefits of microgravity."

  • Spacewalk
  • International Space Station
  • NASA

William Harwood

Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."

(Video) Watch the launch of SpaceX Axiom Mission 2 at NASA Space Center in Florida

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Who was the first private crew paying $55 million for a trip to the ISS axiom names? ›

An American real estate investor, a Canadian investor, and a former Israeli Air Force pilot are paying $55 million each to be part of the first fully private astronaut crew to journey to the International Space Station.

What is SpaceX axiom? ›

Axiom-2 is the second all-private crewed mission to the International Space Station for Houston-based Axiom Space. It's contracted with NASA. The mission is expected to last about ten days; eight docked to the International Space Station and two days for travel.

How much did the first space tourist to visit the International Space Station pay for an eight day trip? ›

Dennis Tito visited the ISS for seven days in April–May 2001, becoming the world's first "fee-paying" space tourist. Tito paid a reported $20 million for his trip.

When was the first private space flight? ›

9 September 1982 – Conestoga I, a repurposed Minuteman second stage, is launched from Matagorda Island to an altitude of 309 km (192 miles) by Space Services Inc., becoming the first privately owned and operated rocket to reach space.

How much did the private crew pay to go to the space station? ›

His crewmates are three financiers: Larry Connor of the U.S., Canada's Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe from Israel. Each paid about $55 million for their ticket, Axiom cofounder Kim Ghaffarian confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday.

How much did SpaceX passengers pay? ›

Arriving at the space station Saturday will be an American, Canadian and Israeli who run investment, real estate and other companies. They're paying $55 million apiece for the rocket ride and accommodations, all meals included.

Who owns Axiom Space? ›

Founders. Axiom is led by co-founder and President/CEO Michael Suffredini, who served as NASA's International Space Station Program Manager from 2005 to 2015 and oversaw the Station's transition from assembly to operation and commercial utilization.

What is the most advanced model of spacecraft by SpaceX? ›

Falcon Heavy is composed of three reusable Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.

Did Axiom 2 launch? ›

What is the most expensive ticket to space? ›

Axiom Space, a private aerospace company that wants to build the first commercial space station, is planning to send private citizens to the International Space Station in 2022 aboard the Crew Dragon from billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. Tickets sold for a whopping $55 million each.

Who is the millionaire that went to space? ›

Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have now both gone to space. Here's the difference between their Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights. Two competing billionaires have launched successful trips to space in the race for commercial space travel.

How much did the billionaire pay to go to space? ›

Last year, Maezawa, 47, and his producer Yozo Hirano became the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. He has not disclosed the cost for that mission, though reports said he paid $80 million. Maezawa made his fortune in retail fashion, launching Japan's largest online fashion mall, Zozotown.

Who funds space travel? ›

Each year federal agencies receive funding from Congress, known as budgetary resources . In FY 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had $32.37 Billion distributed among its 1 sub-components. Agencies spend available budgetary resources by making financial promises called obligations .

How much does it cost to go to space? ›

Currently, it is only available to those who can spend an average of $250,000 to $500,000 for suborbital trips (about a fifteen-minute ride to the edge of space and back) or flights to actual orbit at more than $50 million per seat (though typically a longer trip than 15 minutes).

Who is the owner of NASA? ›

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA /ˈnæsə/) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civil space program, aeronautics research, and space research.

How much do you get paid to be in space? ›

Civilian. The pay grades for civilian astronaut candidates are set by federal government pay scales and vary based on academic achievements and experience. According to NASA , civilian astronaut salaries range from $104,898 to $161,141 per year.

How much did Pete Davidson pay to go to space? ›

He'll be traveling to the edge of space with Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rocket company as “an honorary guest,” according to a spokeswoman for the company. While Davidson will take this flight for free, the five other passengers on board will be paying for their seats.

Can I get paid to go to space? ›

U.S. civilian astronauts at NASA are paid on the federal government's general schedule, between grades GS11 and GS14 depending on their experience, according to NASA. The general schedule for 2023 suggests a NASA astronaut's base pay can range between $59,319 and $129,878.

Who is the highest paid employee at SpaceX? ›

The highest paying role reported at SpaceX is Software Engineer at the L4 level with a yearly total compensation of $360,000. This includes base salary as well as any potential stock compensation and bonuses.

How much do astronauts make a year for SpaceX? ›

The average salary for an Astronaut is $76,738 per year in United States, which is 45% lower than the average SpaceX salary of $140,840 per year for this job.

Who owns the space station? ›

The ISS is not owned by one single nation and is a "co-operative programme" between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada and Japan, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

Does the US have its own space station? ›

ISS Unity American manned space station. Unity was the first U.S.-built component of the International Space Station. Built by Boeing for NASA, USA.

Who owns the private space company? ›

SpaceX is a private spaceflight company that sends satellites and people to space, including NASA crews to the International Space Station (ISS). Founder Elon Musk is also creating and testing a Starship system for lunar landings and, he hopes, future crewed Mars missions.

How much is a seat on Axiom Space? ›

It's the second charter flight organized by Houston-based Axiom Space. The company would not say how much the latest tickets cost; it previously cited per-seat prices of $55 million.

What's the most powerful rocket ever made? ›

SpaceX's Starship, most powerful rocket ever built, tumbles and explodes minutes after liftoff - CBS News.

What is the most powerful rocket ever built? ›

SpaceX's Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, blasts off. SpaceX launches its towering Starship rocket in its first attempt to reach space.

What is the most successful rocket in history? ›

The Saturn V was a rocket NASA built to send people to the moon. A Heavy Lift Vehicle, it was the most powerful rocket that had ever flown successfully. The Saturn V was used in the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s and was also used to launch the Skylab space station.

Can I buy Axiom Space stock? ›

Axiom Space is a private company and not publicly traded. If you are interested in buying or selling private company shares, you can register with Forge today for free to explore your options.

Is Axiom Space legit? ›

Axiom Space has an overall rating of 4.2 out of 5, based on over 24 reviews left anonymously by employees. 75% of employees would recommend working at Axiom Space to a friend and 68% have a positive outlook for the business. This rating has decreased by -5% over the last 12 months.

How long is Axiom 1 in space? ›

17 days, 1 hour and 48 minutes

Does NASA pay you to go to space? ›

NASA Astronaut Salary

Not only do you get to explore space and conduct groundbreaking research, but you also have the opportunity to earn a competitive salary. According to estimates from Glassdoor, a starting salary for an entry-level astronaut is around $100,000 per year.

How much money does it cost to go to the moon? ›

Cost To Go To the Moon

Taking that as 1973 dollars, that's roughly equivalent to a little over $157 billion in dollars today, or about $9.3 billion a year.

How much does it cost to go to space for 12 minutes? ›

The flight is scheduled for July 20 and the winner with join Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark. Here's what $28 million gets you: Training begins a few days before the flight with the goal of getting familiar with the space capsule. The flight lasts 10 to 12 minutes.

Who are the 3 billionaires race to space? ›

The trio of space billionaires — Branson, Bezos and Elon Musk — have their eyes set squarely on the future.

What billionaire went to space and died? ›

Glen de Vries — a health technology entrepreneur who flew into space on a Blue Origin rocket with actor William Shatner last month — died Thursday in a New Jersey airplane crash, state police officials said.

Who is the richest man in the world? ›

Who is the richest man in the world? As of May 1, 2023, the richest man in the world is Bernard Arnault, the CEO and chairman of LVMH of France; he's worth nearly $237 billion. He moved into the number one spot after Elon Musk's fortune fell in late 2022 as shares of electric carmaker Tesla fell.

How much did the Axiom 1 crew cost? ›

Crew. Michael López-Alegría was chosen as a commercial astronaut. The other three seats were reserved for space tourists, announced to cost US$55 million each.

Who is the first private company to ISS? ›

Ax-1. Axiom Mission 1 (or Ax-1) was a privately funded and operated crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission was operated by Axiom Space out of Axiom's Mission Control Center MCC-A in Houston, Texas. The flight launched on 8 April 2022 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Who is the first private crew will visit space station? ›

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Pathy is part of a four-person crew who made history Friday on board the first civilian mission to the International Space Station. The mission isn't solely about space tourism — crew members plan to conduct several science experiments during their visit.

Who was the first all private crew makes it safely to ISS? ›

April 25 (Reuters) - The first all-private astronaut team ever flown aboard the International Space Station (ISS) safely splashed down in the Atlantic off Florida's coast on Monday, concluding a two-week science mission hailed as a landmark in commercialized human spaceflight.

Who paid for space station? ›

The ISS includes contributions from 15 nations. NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia) and the European Space Agency are the major partners of the space station and contribute most of the funding; the other partners are the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Who paid 55 million to go to space? ›

Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy as a mission specialist. Israeli impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe as a mission specialist. There are two backups, with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as Ax-1's backup commander and John Shoffner as the backup mission pilot.

What is the most expensive rocket ever launched? ›

SLS is the most powerful rocket ever launched, boasting 15 percent more thrust than the Saturn V rocket that sent American astronauts to the Moon in 1969. It's also the most expensive rocket ever developed, estimated to have cost NASA $23 billion.

Is the ISS owned by the US? ›

The station is divided into two sections: the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) is operated by Russia, while the United States Orbital Segment (USOS) is run by the United States as well as by the other states.

How many privately owned space companies are there? ›

Three companies—Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX—are blazing their own separate paths into space tourism.

Who are the 8 civilians going to space? ›

The first all-civilian space flight around the moon is shooting for a 2023 launch and Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa wants to invite eight people from around the world to come along -- and he's paying for it. The mission, called "dearMoon" will be aboard the SpaceX rocket Starship that is still undergoing tests.

Are we going to moon again? ›

The first crewed mission is scheduled to loop around the moon in 2024, and the first Artemis landing is currently scheduled for 2025.

Who was the first person to pay to go to space? ›

Few people had heard of aerospace engineer and financial analyst Dennis Tito before 2001. That was the year Tito, then 60, became the first paying space tourist, cutting a $20 million check to Russia to fly aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and spend a week aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Who is the only astronaut who flew on all of the shuttles? ›

Story Musgrave is the only astronaut to have flown on all five shuttles. Astronauts Jerry Ross and Franklin Chang-Diaz have flown the most shuttle missions with seven each.

Who was the youngest person on the ISS? ›

Gherman Titov

Gherman Titov Is technically the youngest astronaut to travel into space at 25-years-old.

Which president was the only one to see a Space Shuttle launch in person? ›

Bill Clinton became the second sitting U.S. president to witness a crewed space launch, joined by his wife Hillary on the roof of the Launch Control Center, and the only one to witness a Space Shuttle launch (President Richard Nixon witnessed the launch of Apollo 12).


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