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The space station is getting crowded again

With four more people arriving at the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, the orbital outpost is getting rather crowded 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 a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida the previous day.

Several hours after docking, the crewmembers of NASA’s second-ever private mission boarded the station, bringing the crew count to 11. While the ISS usually operates with a crew of around six or seven, it does occasionally expand to 11 or thereabouts during crew swap-overs or, as in this case, due to visits by privately funded crews. The highest number of astronauts the station has ever hosted is 13, during the Space Shuttle era.

Welcome aboard the station #Ax2! The four @Axiom_Space private astronauts entered the orbital outpost after opening the @SpaceX Dragon crew ship hatch at 11am ET today.

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) May 22, 2023

While the conditions may look 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 “larger than a six-bedroom house,” with six sleeping quarters, three bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree view bay window.

For the next eight days, the five Americans, three Russians, two Saudi Arabians, and one Emirati will live and work alongside each other in microgravity conditions.

The current all-private Ax-2 mission — the second of its kind following the first one in 2022 — is a joint effort between NASA, SpaceX, and Axiom Space. The new privately funded missions offer a way to open up space to more people, while also helping NASA to fund the maintenance and operation of the ISS until its decommissioning, which is currently set for 2031.

Whitson is an experienced and now retired NASA astronaut who currently works for Axiom Space, while Alqarni and Barnawi’s voyage — sending Saudi Arabians 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 to orbit. It’s not been confirmed but earlier reports suggested the ticket could have cost around $55 million.

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