SpaceX on Sunday evening launched a commercial mission to the International Space Station carrying four people, including former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.
This "Axiom-2" mission was commanded by Whitson and carried a paying customer named John Shoffner, who served as pilot, as well as two Saudi Arabian mission specialists, Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. Shoffner and the government of Saudi Arabia procured the seats on Crew Dragon from Axiom, a Houston-based spaceflight company that brokered the mission to the space station. Whitson is an employee of Axiom.
The crew of four is flying the second fully private mission to the International Space Station and will spend about a week on board the orbiting laboratory before departing for Earth—weather permitting—on May 30.
Axiom's missions appeal to potential customers for a variety of reasons. Some of the allure, undoubtedly, is space tourism and an opportunity to stay at the only space hotel in the known universe. There are only two space stations in orbit, and one is controlled by the Chinese government and at present open only to that nation's astronauts. But for countries like Saudi Arabia, such a mission also offers an alternative fast route to the prestige of spaceflight for its citizens outside of partnering with Russia or creating a home-grown human spaceflight program.