Private Axe-2 astronauts reflect on seeing Earth from space for the first time

After their brief time aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the Axiom Spaces Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew returned to Earth with an altered view of the planet we call home.

Can you believe we landed less than 48 hours ago? Ax-2 commander Peggy Whitson exclaimed during a press conference on Thursday. It still strikes me thinking about it, but it was all so fast.

Space axiom launched its second private mission to the ISS on May 21. After spending 10 days on the space station, the Ax-2 crew landed aboard a Dragon spacecraft, named Freedomoff the coast of Panama City, Florida, on May 30th. The crew was led by veteran astronaut Whitson, the director of Axiom Spaces Human Spaceflight, with two mission specialists from Saudi Arabia’s first class of astronautsAli Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as well as pilot John Shoffner, who bought his ticket to the ISS through Axiom Space in 2021. Aside from Whitson, who has spent a record total of 675 days in space, the three remaining crew members had never made the trip to low Earth orbit.

What I really wanted was to feel the pitch itself, how dynamic it is and how aggressive or soft it will be, Alqarni said during Thursday’s press conference. I was surprised after the main booster separated, the rocket adjusted its pitch and started accelerating and all the forces pushed us into the seat, it was so amazing to hear it.

Once they got to the space station, the crew got busy working on more than 20 different experiments in the microgravity environment. However, the Ax-2 crew members found some time to admire the view of Earth as the ISS orbited 254 miles (408 kilometers) above the surface. That sight of the pale blue dot left a big impact on first-time astronauts. Just seeing that thin layer that protects the whole world and how we should take care of this planet, Barnawi said during the press conference. He made me think about every little thing we do to the Earth to hurt it.

To be able to see all countries become continents and continents become a whole world that we have to take care of, that’s a whole new perception for me, he added. Alqarni echoed the same sentiment, describing the Earth as this fragile globe that rotates in suspended space and darkness and that we need to take care of.

The two Saudi astronauts were the first from their country to visit the ISS, with Barnawi becoming the first woman from the Arab world to go into space. Both astronauts described their delight at seeing the gulf country below from their perspective aboard the ISS. The first night, once we got on board, we were lucky to fly over the west coast of Saudi Arabia, and we were super excited, Alqarni said. We were like kids…it was great.

That feeling of being in space is seemingly addictive, while longtime astronaut Whitson expressed her desire to return to Earth orbit. When asked if Whitson was ready for her next space trip, the former NASA astronaut replied with, “Yes, I’m ready.” Let’s go!

Ax-2 was a sequel Axiom Spaces first private mission to the ISSAx-1, launched in April 2022. After the return of Ax-1, NASA has admitted it has learned some important lessons about having private crews aboard the space station. Even the crew of the Ax-1 he complained that he was too busy on the space station and not having enough time to absorb it all. Ax-2 appears to have fared a little better than its predecessor, with no complaints from this crew of four astronauts.

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