As the space industry continues to evolve, a new record of simultaneous space tourism missions was achieved, with 17 space tourists orbiting Earth at the same time. The previous record, set during the privately funded Inspiration4 mission in September 2021, was 14 people.
The number grew to 17 with the launch of China’s three-person Shenzhou 16 mission on May 29. The traffic in space was short-lived though as one of the missions carrying four people — Axiom-2 — departed the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Freedom” to return to Earth on May 30.
The four space missions orbiting Earth at the same time hailed travelers from five different countries — China, Russia, United States, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia:
- Shenzhou 16 — Chinese taikonauts Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao, now aboard China’s Tiangong space station.
- Shenzhou 15 — Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, who have been aboard Tiangong since November 2022 and who are expected to return to Earth in early June.
- Expedition 69 — Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and Andrey Fedyaev of Russia’s federal space corporate Roscosmos; astronauts Frank Rubio, Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg of NASA; and Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi of the UAE, stationed at the ISS.
- Axiom-2 — Axiom Space astronaut Peggy Whitson, private astronaut John Shoffner and Saudi Arabian astronauts Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi were also stationed at the ISS.
Two other records were set by pure coincidence — the 600th person to enter Earth orbit and the first Saudi woman in space. Ax-2 mission specialist Barnawi became the sexcentenarian orbital space traveler, including the first Saudi woman experiencing life beyond Earth.
The record for most people in space at once, counting with suborbital spaceflights, was reset recently, on May 25, and lasted an even shorter amount of time. For about 5 minutes, there were 20 people off the planet. That record happened when the six members of Virgin Galactic Unity 25 SpaceShipTwo crew, coincided with three Chinese taikonauts living aboard Tiangong, the Chinese space station, and 11 astronauts, cosmonauts and spaceflight participants on board the ISS.