'I'm ready. Let's go!' Record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson eager for next flight after private Ax-2 mission

four astronauts in black-and-white spacesuits inside a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
Axiom Space's Ax-2 crew are seen in SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft "Freedom." From left: mission specialist Rayyanah Barnawi, pilot John Shoffner, commander Peggy Whitson and mission specialist Ali AlQarni. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Record-breaking former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson hasn't been back on Earth for long, but she's already eager to leave the planet again.

Whitson commanded Ax-2, a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) operated by Houston company Axiom Space

Whitson and her three Ax-2 crewmates — paying customer John Shoffner and Saudi Arabian national astronauts Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi — returned to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule late Tuesday night (May 30), splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.  

The 10-day-long Ax-2 took Peggy Whitson's total time in space to 675 days — more than any other American or any other woman. And she'd like to keep adding to that tally.

"I'm ready. Let's go!" Whitson told reporters during a press conference on Thursday (June 1), when asked if she were ready for her next mission. "Especially if I can have a crew as great as this."

Related: Private Ax-2 astronauts get warm welcome on space station (video)
Read more: Ax-2 spaceflight with SpaceX: Updates

Ax-2 was the first trip to space for Shoffner, AlQarni and Barnawi. All three of the rookies gushed about the mission, saying it was the experience of a lifetime. 

AlQarni and Barnawi — the first Saudis ever to visit the ISS — both stressed how vulnerable Earth looks from above, a lonely outpost of life in a vast, dark universe.

"It was an amazing experience to look out the window and see the world underneath you," AlQarni said. "It's like this fragile globe spinning in ... space in the darkness, and we need to take care of it."

Barnawi, who on Ax-2 became the first Saudi woman to reach the final frontier, said that Earth's atmosphere is strikingly thin when viewed from orbit. The wispiness of that layer of air, which protects us from the cold vacuum of space, made her think about "how we are supposed to take care of this planet, like, with all of our hearts," Barnawi said. 

"That just touched my heart, and it made me think about every little thing that we do to Earth to hurt it," she added.

The Ax-2 SpaceX Dragon Freedom floats near a recovery ship shortly after splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on May 30, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

It wasn't all epiphanies and reveries for the Ax-2 crewmates, though. They also had to deal with more practical matters, some of which proved a bit challenging for the rookie spaceflyers.

"I know there was one thing you guys were maybe a little afraid of: the toilet," Whitson, who now serves as director of human spaceflight at Axiom, told her three crewmates during Thursday's press conference.

The astronauts all laughed, and AlQarni replied that using a space toilet definitely requires "planning ahead." But the rookies apparently did their prep work well.

"I don't think there were any mishap problems," Shoffner said. "I think we were perfect toileters."

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.