Private SpaceX space mission splashes down and makes history

Panama City, Florida – A SpaceX capsule carrying two Saudi astronauts and two Americans has splashed down off the coast of Florida, completing the second private mission to the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off on May 21 with Saudi Arabia's first astronaut class, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, along with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, and John Shoffner.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off on May 21 with Saudi Arabia's first astronaut class, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, along with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, and John Shoffner.  © JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

This crew truly made a splash.

Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab woman to go to space, compatriot Ali Al-Qarni, and Americans Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner waved happily to cameras after the hatch was opened on their Crew Dragon late Tuesday night.

The capsule carrying them parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, where they splashed into the water.

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They were then helped out of the spacecraft, slightly unsteady on their feet after spending eight days on the orbital outpost, as seen on a video stream provided by Axiom Space, which chartered the mission with NASA.

"Welcome back to Earth!" tweeted NASA chief Bill Nelson.

The four member crew conducted more than 20 research experiments and served as research subjects to better understand the impacts of microgravity on the human body and to develop technologies that can assist future human spaceflight, Axiom Space said in a statement.

The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on May 21.

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A Saudi man and his daughter ahead of the launch of the SpaceX flight carrying two Saudi nationals, Rayyanah Barnawi (r.) and Ali Al-Qarni (l.), to the International Space Station.
A Saudi man and his daughter ahead of the launch of the SpaceX flight carrying two Saudi nationals, Rayyanah Barnawi (r.) and Ali Al-Qarni (l.), to the International Space Station.  © REUTERS

The company carried out its first private mission to the ISS in April last year, with each of its three paying crew members reported to have paid tens of millions of dollars for their tickets.

The company has not disclosed how much the government of Saudi Arabia spent on sending its two nationals on Ax-2, nor the amount paid by Shoffner, an entrepreneur. Whitson is a former NASA astronaut now contracted by Axiom.

The mission has been something of a publicity coup for Saudi Arabia, whose ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to project a softer global image since taking power.

Axiom is one of several companies working on a commercial space station to replace the ISS once it retires after 2030.

NASA has made it a goal to stimulate a commercial economy in the region of space called low Earth orbit, leaving it to focus on missions deeper into space, such as returning to the Moon with humans and then going on to Mars.

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS & JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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