The second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has successfully
launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission, carried out by a
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, commenced as scheduled.
The booster safely returned to SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1 shortly after liftoff. The Ax-2 crew celebrated the separation of their SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, named Freedom, from the Falcon 9’s upper stage. The commander of the mission, Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut and the person who has spent the most time in space among Americans and women, expressed her excitement about being back in space.
The Dragon spacecraft is expected to dock with the ISS on Monday morning. The Ax-2 mission includes several notable firsts. Whitson is the first woman to command a private crewed mission to space, and she previously served as the first woman commander aboard the ISS.
Additionally, two members of the crew, Ali Al Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, were chosen from Saudi
Arabia’s first astronaut class, making them the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS.
Barnawi is also the first Saudi woman to travel to space. Businessman and STEAM advocate John Shoffner is joining the mission as a paying customer and fulfilling his lifelong dream of going to space. Shoffner is the first person from Alaska to reach orbit.
During their eight-day stay on the ISS, the Ax-2 crew will conduct independent research investigations alongside the station’s current astronauts. One experiment, organized by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), focuses on testing and measuring the crewmembers’ own bodies to better understand the effects of microgravity.
Axiom Space has optimized the training specific to the Ax-2 crew based on lessons learned from their previous mission. The company aims to enhance private astronaut training and maximize crew productivity during short trips to the ISS.
In addition to the scientific experiments, the Ax-2 crew will undertake over 20 different projects and
investigations, covering areas such as DNA research, cancer research, cloud seeding for rain
production, and STEAM education promotion worldwide.
Axiom Space’s ambitions extend beyond private spaceflights, as they are developing a private space station that will initially link modules to the ISS before becoming an independent low Earth orbit destination.
The company has also been contracted by NASA to develop spacesuits for astronauts on the Artemis 3 mission, set to launch in 2025, which aims to return humans to the lunar surface.