Update as of 12 pm ET: The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the Ax-2 crew successfully lifted off from the International Space Station at 11:05 a.m. NASA EDT (1505 GMT). Tweeted Tuesday (May 30).
The crew plans to splash in the ocean off the coast of Florida Tonight at 11:02 pm EDT (0302 GMT on May 31). Live notifications.
Four astronauts aboard the private Ax-2 spacecraft are scheduled to land on Earth today (May 30), and you can watch the action live.
The hatch between Ax-2’s SpaceX Dragon capsule, named Freedom, and the International Space Station (ISS) closed at 9:20 am EDT (1320 GMT), opening at 11:05 am EDT (1505 GMT).
You can follow the undock live on Space.com starting at 10:45 a.m. EDT (1445 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV. The capsule will arrive at our planet for an ocean splashdown today (May 31 at 0302 GMT) at 11:02 pm EDT. You can watch Freedom’s Return here on Space.com starting at 10 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT on May 31) courtesy of SpaceX.
Related: SpaceX Launches Ax-2 Private Space Shuttle to Space Station (Video)
read more: Ax-2 Spaceflight with SpaceX: Live Updates
Ax-2 was launched on May 21 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and arrived at the ISS a day later.
The private mission, operated by Axiom Space, is led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who now works for the Houston-based company. Other crew members are paying customers John Shofner and Ali Alkarni and Rayana Barnawi, both members of Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut class.
The Saudi twins were the first people from the kingdom to visit the ISS, and Barnawi became the first Saudi woman to reach space.
The four Ax-2 astronauts helped conduct more than 20 science experiments during their eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory, as well as carrying out various outreach and education activities. Alkarni and Barnawi have been particularly busy with outreach work as Saudi Arabia sees this as a golden opportunity to spark interest in science and engineering among the country’s youth.
As its name suggests, Ax-2 is the second mission to send Axiom Space to the ISS. The first, Ax-1, launched four people aboard the SpaceX Dragon in April 2022.
Axiom plans to continue such trips for the next few years, but it also has bigger goals in mind. The company plans to launch a few modules to the ISS starting in 2025. These modules will separate from the orbiting laboratory in the late 2020s and become private outposts flying freely in low-Earth orbit.
NASA is fully supporting this effort. The space agency is encouraging the development of private space stations, hoping to have at least one operational before the ISS retires at the end of the 2030s.