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Axiom's SpaceX Mission Sets To Launch Four Passengers To The International Space Station

Axiom's SpaceX mission sets to launch four passengers to the International Space Station as it prepares to launch a mission called AX-2, organized by the Houston-based company. The four passengers, including three paying customers, will go on a weeklong journey to the International Space Station (ISS).

Paula M. Graham
May 22, 20235542 Shares113111 Views
Axiom's SpaceX mission sets to launch four passengers to the International Space Stationas it prepares to launch a mission called AX-2, organized by the Houston-based company. The four passengers, including three paying customers, will go on a weeklong journey to the International Space Station (ISS). This historic mission will mark the second all-private trip to the orbiting outpost.
Notably, stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi from Saudi Arabia will join the crew, becoming the first woman from her country to travel to space. The launch is scheduled to take place from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a live stream available on YouTube and coverage starting on NASA TV at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, followed by liftoff expected at 5:37 p.m. ET.
Weather officials, including Brian Cizek from the US Space Force, will closely monitor the weather conditions in Florida. Cizek mentioned that Florida is transitioning into the summer wet season, characterized by frequent daily thunderstorms in the region. However, he also mentioned that Sunday's weather appears to be favorable, with conditions looking quite promising.
According to Cizek:
Really the only thing we’re going to have to watch for is the anvil coming off the top of those thunderstorms.- Brian Cizek, US Space Force
In the event that the mission cannot take place on Sunday, SpaceX has the option to make another launch attempt on Monday. However, the weather forecast indicates an 80% chance of unsuitable conditions for launch. Subsequent delays may occur due to the necessity for NASA to initiate a SpaceX cargo mission.
This mission is part of a series of flights aimed at fostering private sector involvement in spaceflight, particularly in low Earth orbit where the space station is located. Leading the AX-2 crew is Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who is now an employee of Axiom Space. With this mission, Whitson will make history as the first woman to command a private spaceflight.
The AX-2 crew will include three paying customers, one of whom is John Shoffner, an American entrepreneur who amassed his wealth in the global telecommunications industry and established Dura-Line Corp, a hardware company.
In addition, Saudi Arabia has funded the spaceflight of two of its citizens: Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, the latter being a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force.
“I am very honored and happy to be representing all the dreams and all the hopes of all the people in Saudi Arabia and all the women back home,” Barnawi told reporters last week.
The fully autonomous Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to dock with the space station in the early hours of Monday, enabling its passengers to join the existing seven astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The AX-2 crew will have an approximate duration of eight days on the space station. Throughout this period, they will engage in a comprehensive array of over 20 investigations and scientific projects, encompassing areas such as stem cell research and other biomedical studies.

Ax-2 All Crew Press Conference

The AX-2 Crew

After a gap of six years, Whitson will be making her return to the space station, marking her first visit since 2017. Her remarkable tenure on the station has earned her the distinction of being the record holder among US astronauts for the highest cumulative days spent in space.
While Whitson has previously flown on both the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and NASA's space shuttle, she emphasized that preparing for this mission has been notably distinct. The key difference lies in the training required to operate SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which has exclusively been transporting astronauts since 2020.
“That’s been one of the biggest challenges for me is learning this particular spacecraft,” she said. “But I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Barnawi and AlQarni's space travel marks a significant milestone as they become the second and third Saudis to venture into space. The first Saudi astronaut was Prince Sultan bin Salman, who embarked on a NASA space shuttle mission in 1985, spending approximately a week in space.
While Saudi Arabia has faced criticism from the Biden administration and Congress concerning its human rights record, the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia remains robust. AlQarni expressed his belief that the participation of Arabs in spaceflight presents a tremendous opportunity that can serve as inspiration for the region and its inhabitants.
It will “hold a big message. … We are holding hands, we are working together for the betterment of humanity and just trying to innovate,” he said during a news briefing on Tuesday.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft launched the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) to the International Space Station
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft launched the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) to the International Space Station

The Future Of Private Spaceflight

The concept of private individuals paying for space travel is not entirely new. In the early 2000s, a company named Space Adventures facilitated several missions to the space station, arranging seats on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft for affluent adventurers seeking an extraordinary experience.
Axiom Space, on the other hand, introduced this business model to the United States by collaborating with SpaceX. Together, they established a framework to transport a diverse range of customers to the space station. The inaugural mission of Axiom, AX-1, took place in April 2022, marking a historic milestone as it became the first instance of private citizens traveling to the space station from US soil.
Axiom Space aims to establish a routine for these missions, providing increased opportunities for individuals who are not professional astronauts to partake in spaceflight. In a prelaunch news conference, Derek Hassmann, Chief of Mission Integration and Operations at Axiom Space, expressed that the company anticipates a rise in the number of customers sponsored by governments, following the model of the AX-2 passengers from Saudi Arabia. This indicates a growing trend towards governmental support and involvement in facilitating access to space for non-astronaut individuals.
According to Hassmann:
Government astronauts are indeed a key piece of our business plan. Early in the program, it wasn’t clear to us what the balance would be between private individuals and government astronauts since nothing like this had ever been done before. But it’s become clear to us that the government, market is key, and we’re pursuing that actively.- Derek Hassmann, Chief of Mission Integration and Operations at Axiom Space
The leadership at Axiom envisions a future where private spaceflight continues beyond the retirement of the space station, which NASA plans to accomplish by 2030. Axiom is among several US companies striving to establish a new privately owned space station. This initiative is supported by NASA, as it aims to encourage increased private sector participation closer to Earth, allowing the agency to focus on investing in deep-space exploration.
During their time on the space station, the AX-2 crew will collaborate with the professional astronauts present, albeit operating on different schedules. Upon arrival, they will rely on the existing crew to familiarize them with various aspects, including the functioning of the kitchen and bathroom. However, certain areas, such as the air lock used for spacewalks, will remain off-limits to them, as explained by Hassmann.
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