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Axiom crew finishes space station science mission

The second crew to be sent into space as a profit-making proposition for Texas-based Axiom Space came back to Earth tonight in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule after spending nine days on the International Space Station.

The Ax-2 trip came a year after Axiom’s first crewed space mission, and marked several firsts: Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson became the first woman to command a private-sector space mission as Axiom’s director of human spaceflight, and mission specialist Rayyanah Barnawi became the first Saudi woman in space.

Tennessee business executive John Shoffner and Saudi fighter pilot Ali Alqarni rounded out the crew. Shoffner paid his own fare, which was thought to amount to tens of millions of dollars, while Barnawi and Alqarni flew with the backing of the Saudi government.

The trip began on May 21 with the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida, and ended today with the crew’s departure from the space station and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. While crew members waited for a recovery ship to pick up their Dragon capsule, which was dubbed Freedom, Whitson described the descent from orbit as a “phenomenal ride” — the same phrase she used after liftoff.

“We really enjoyed all of it,” she told SpaceX’s Mission Control.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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