With four more people arriving at the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, the orbital outpost is filling up again.
Traveling aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) astronauts Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi docked with the ISS at 9:12 a.m. ET after launching aboard. of a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida the day before.
Several hours after docking, crew members from NASA’s second private mission boarded the station, bringing the crew count to 11. While the ISS typically operates with a crew of around six or seven, occasionally it expands to 11 or more during crew exchanges or, as in this case, due to visits by privately funded crews. The largest number of astronauts the station has hosted is 13, during the space shuttle era.
While conditions may seem cramped to some observers, the ISS is actually a sprawling facility with multiple modules where inhabitants can work, rest, and play.
NASA describes the facility, which orbits 250 miles above Earth, as “bigger than a six-bedroom house,” with six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree panoramic window.
For the next eight days, the five Americans, three Russians, two Saudis and one Emirati will live and work together in microgravity.
The current fully private Ax-2 mission, the second of its kind after the first in 2022, is a joint effort between NASA, SpaceX and Axiom Space. The new privately funded missions offer a way to open space to more people, while helping NASA finance the maintenance and operation of the ISS until its decommissioning, which is currently scheduled for 2031.
Whitson is an experienced and now-retired NASA astronaut currently working for Axiom Space, while Alqarni and Barnawi’s trip, sending the Saudis to the ISS for the first time, has been organized by the Saudi Space Commission. Shoffner is a businessman and investor and has paid his own way into orbit. It hasn’t been confirmed, but previous reports suggested the ticket could have cost around $55 million.