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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
- International Space Station
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."
Thanks for reading CBS NEWS.
Create your free account or log in
for more features.
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.Does SpaceX take 4 passengers to orbit a glimpse at private spaceflight future? ›
SpaceX takes 4 passengers to orbit—a glimpse at private spaceflight's future. The Inspiration4 crew will spend three days circling the planet on a mission that aims to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.How many manned flights has SpaceX flown? ›
The active version, Falcon 9 Block 5, has flown 173 missions, all full successes. In 2022 Falcon 9 set a new record of 60 launches (all successful) by the same launch vehicle type in a calendar year. The previous record was held by Soyuz-U, which had 47 launches (45 successful) in 1979.
Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi (far left), former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, investor and pilot John Shoffner, and Saudi astronaut Ali AlQarni wave before being brought to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft for launch from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 21, 2023 in Cape ...How many SpaceX flights to iss? ›
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is capable of carrying up to 6,000 kgs / 13,228 lbs of cargo to the Station and returning 3,000 kgs / 6,614 lbs of cargo back to Earth. To date, Dragon has made over 20 trips to the orbiting laboratory.
|1||Yuri Gagarin||12 April 1961|
|2||Alan Shepard ◉▲||5 May 1961|
|3||Virgil Grissom ◉||21 July 1961|
|4||Gherman Titov||6 August 1961|
NASA has previously disclosed a SpaceX crew launch costs about $55 million per seat, so the price for these private missions is expected to be high. Axiom has booked four crewed flights from SpaceX to date.How many failed launches has SpaceX had? ›
Since March 2006, SpaceX has launched 5 Falcon 1, 228 Falcon 9, 6 Falcon Heavy, and 1 Starship rockets. Of these, 3 Falcon 1, 2 Falcon 9 and 1 Starship launches were complete failures and 1 Falcon 9 launch were partial failures. As of May 2023, SpaceX has a 97.4% launch success rate.How many people has China put in space? ›
As of 2022, sixteen Chinese nationals have traveled in space.How many manned rockets have exploded? ›
There have been two space shuttles lost due to explosion. The Challenger shuttle exploded in 1986 due to a leak in it's fuel system causing the booster rockets to separate. This was followed on February 1st, 2003 with the Columbia explosion.
The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, commonly referred to as SpaceX is an American spacecraft manufacturer, launcher, and satellite communications company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to colonization of Mars.How many astronauts are in space right now 2023? ›
As of June 2, 2023 there are 10 people currently living and working in space.How many Falcon 9 rockets does SpaceX have? ›
Cutting-edge technology makes Falcon 9 the vehicle of choice for commercial and government customers. SpaceX has approximately 40 Falcon 9 missions on the manifest.How does SpaceX make money? ›
SpaceX makes a huge percentage of its money from launching satellites into orbit. Commercial businesses pay the company to launch satellites they can leverage for their firms. The launch fee per service is $62 million, but could be higher for complex launches.How long does it take SpaceX to get to the space station? ›
The four-member crew should reach the International Space Station (ISS) about 25 hours later, on Tuesday morning, to begin a six-month mission in microgravity aboard the orbiting laboratory some 250 miles (420 km) above Earth.Does the US still send astronauts into space? ›
This is the sixth SpaceX flight with NASA astronauts – including the Demo-2 test flight in 2020 to the space station – as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.How much do astronauts get paid? ›
How much does a Nasa Astronaut make? As of May 30, 2023, the average annual pay for a Nasa Astronaut in the United States is $46,585 a year.How many men have been lost in space? ›
During spaceflight. As of March 2023, in-flight accidents have killed 15 astronauts and 4 cosmonauts, in five separate incidents. Three of them had flown above the Kármán line (edge of space), and one was intended to do so. In each case, the entire crew was killed.How many men are lost in space? ›
Summary. There are no human bodies lost in space. Most spaceflight-related accidents that involved people have happened while still on Earth. The only three people who have died in space are the cosmonauts of the Soyuz 11.How much do ISS astronauts get paid? ›
|Annual Salary||Monthly Pay|
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.
Lunar landing: The Golden Spike Company charged $750 million per seat for future lunar landing tourism.What is the net worth of SpaceX? ›
He owns about 23% of Tesla between stock and options, but has pledged more than half his shares as collateral for loans. SpaceX, founded in 2002, is worth $127 billion after a funding round in May 2022; it quadrupled its value in three years.What was the biggest rocket launch failure? ›
SpaceX's Starship, the world's largest rocket, explodes 4 minutes after liftoff The monster-sized, stainless steel, uncrewed spacecraft cleared the launch tower but failed to separate from its booster, spinning in the air before succumbing to a blast of flames.What went wrong with SpaceX launch? ›
Get it sent to your inbox. During its brief first flight more than a week ago, the gigantic Starship rocket made by SpaceX generated an unanticipated “rock tornado” at launch, and multiple engines failed as it headed upward before it somersaulted out of control.What does China call their astronauts? ›
In Chinese, the term Yǔ háng yuán (宇航员, "cosmos navigating personnel") is used for astronauts and cosmonauts in general, while hángtiān yuán (航天员, "navigating celestial-heaven personnel") is used for Chinese astronauts.What country has the most stuff in space? ›
Russia has 3,961 pieces of detectable space debris compared to the 3,999 pieces of trackable space trash in orbit created by American activity.Is China going to land a man on the moon? ›
China sets sights on crewed lunar landing before 2030
China's human spaceflight agency has stated its goal to land astronauts on the moon before the end of the decade.
The first astronaut to float away from the safety of their ship without a tether was Bruce McCandless, who reached 320 feet away from the Challenger space shuttle on February 7, 1984.What is the farthest a rocket has gone? ›
Voyager 1 has reached a distance of 23.381 billion km (14.528 billion mi; 156.29 AU) from Earth and 23.483 billion km (14.592 billion mi; 156.97 AU) from the Sun.
As of the launch of Shenzhou 16 on 30 May 2023, there have been 371 human spaceflight launches. Two missions did not cross either the Kármán line or the U.S. definition of space and therefore do not qualify as spaceflights.Can I buy SpaceX stock now? ›
Currently, SpaceX shares can only be found on private marketplaces. These platforms let people invest in companies that are not yet public. With private marketplaces, you can buy SpaceX stock before its IPO date. SpaceX allows shareholder-employees and investors to sell their shares.How much stock do SpaceX employees get? ›
According to the report, the shares are being offered in an "employee tender" for $70 each. This contrasts to a split-adjusted $56 per share at a valuation of around $100 billion during a sale in October.Who are the biggest investors in SpaceX? ›
Their latest funding was raised on Mar 23, 2023 from a Grant round. SpaceX is funded by 83 investors. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority are the most recent investors. SpaceX has a post-money valuation in the range of $10B+ as of Aug 25, 2021 , according to PrivCo.How much does it cost to go to space 2023? ›
$55 million for a 10-day trip to ISS at 408 km with a weeklong (8-day) stay in the orbital lab. Expected to continue in 2023.How many years can a astronaut stay in space? ›
How long can an astronaut safely stay in space? There is no definitive answer to this question. The longest space mission on record was 437 days long, and it was completed by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov in 1994.What is the longest time spent in space? ›
Polyakov flew the longest space mission in history almost 30 years ago. The first person to spend a continuous full year in space, Polyakov lived on the former space station Mir from January 1994 to March 1995, for a total of 437 days, 17 hours and 58 minutes.What fuel is SpaceX using? ›
Merlin. Merlin is a family of rocket engines developed by SpaceX for use on its Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. Merlin engines use a rocket grade kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen as rocket propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. The Merlin engine was originally designed for recovery and reuse.How much fuel does SpaceX use? ›
StarShip uses 1,200 tonnes of propellant and SuperHeavy uses about 3,300 tonnes. 4,500 tonnes in total. 3.55 tonnes of liquid oxygen (LOX) for every 1 tonne of liquid methane (LCH4). 3,510 tonnes of (LOX) versus 989 tonnes of LCH4.What fuel does SpaceX StarShip use? ›
Super Heavy is the first stage, or booster, of the Starship launch system. Powered by 33 Raptor engines using sub-cooled liquid methane (CH4) and liquid oxygen (LOX), Super Heavy is fully reusable and will re-enter Earth's atmosphere to land back at the launch site.
Once Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and Alneyadi are on board the space station, they'll work to take over operations from the SpaceX Crew-5 astronauts who arrived at the space station in October 2022.How much is a space ticket with SpaceX? ›
April 8, 2022 Axiom Space/ SpaceX Vacation on ISS: Partnership between SpaceX and Houston-based Axiom Space Inc. $55 million for a 10-day trip to ISS at 408 km with a weeklong (8-day) stay in the orbital lab. Expected to continue in 2023.How many people can go on SpaceX? ›
Crew Dragon's 4-person configuration
Starting with Crew-1, the first operational flight in November 2020, SpaceX has settled on a four-person configuration for NASA flights and private crew flights.
A Starlink satellite has a lifespan of approximately five years (opens in new tab) and SpaceX eventually hopes to have as many as 42,000 satellites in this so-called megaconstellation.