A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying a retired astronaut, a wealthy explorer and two Saudi astronauts caught up with the International Space Station on Monday, wrapping up a spontaneous 15-hour rendezvous with a picture-perfect docking.
Catching from behind and below, the spacecraft passed 1,300 feet below the lab complex, then looped to a point directly above the forward Harmony module’s space-facing port. From there, the ship left for docking at 9:12 a.m. EDT.
“It was a pleasant ride … it was the smoothest docking I’ve ever experienced,” Ax-2 commander Peggy Whitson radioed SpaceX flight controllers, referring to three previous trips to the station aboard a space shuttle and a Russian Soyuz ferry. “Very well done.”
“We aim for excellence,” replied one controller. “And on behalf of SpaceX, it’s been a pleasure working with you.”
Two hours later, after extensive leak checks, Whitson, a retired astronaut and America’s most experienced astronaut, led his three rookie crewmates to the station where the seven-member Expedition 69 crew was waiting to welcome them aboard.
“Congratulations on a successful launch and your docking,” said cosmonaut Sergei Prokopiev, station commander. “For me, it is an honor to work next with Peggy Whitson, the most experienced and decorated astronaut in the US astronaut corps.”
Whitson replied: “We’re really excited to be here. It’s been a great launch, a great ride, we’ve had a lot of fun on the way up. And we’re really excited to get a lot of work done here. But for me personally it’s great to be back, it’s home. seems like.”
The Ax-2 mission is the second private Crew Dragon flight charted by Houston-based Axiom Space and authorized by NASA as part of an initiative to encourage private-sector development in low-Earth orbit. It is the first such mission with two government-sponsored astronauts – Saudi nationals Ali Alkarni and Raynah Barnawi.
Ax-2 co-pilot John Shoffner, a retired fiber optics entrepreneur, private pilot and high-performance race car driver, paid undisclosed sums for his first space flight while Saudi Arabia’s Alkarni and Barnawi, the second and third to fly in space, represented Saudi Space. Commission. Whitson is director of human spaceflight at Axiom Space.
“Congratulations to the new astronauts Ryanah, John, Ali,” Prokopiev said. “My congratulations to the Saudi Space Commission. I am sure that you will have a great future in your space exploration. Thank you very much, and welcome aboard.”
During their eight-day stay at the space station, the Ax-2 crew plans to conduct 20 experiments ranging from biomedical research to technology development, most of which have been designed by Saudi investigators.
The crew at the STEM initiative has planned a series of live events with school children across Saudi Arabia to encourage interest in science and technology.
Meanwhile, the Expedition 69 astronauts on the US segment of the station will move forward with a full slate of research as Prokopiev and his two Russian crewmates prepare for the arrival of an advance supply ship Wednesday with 5,493 pounds of propellant, water, crew supplies and other cargo.
If all goes well, Whitson and company will undock and return to Earth on May 30, splashing off the coast of Florida to kick off SpaceX’s 10th piloted Crew Dragon flight.
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