SpaceX's Axiom-2 Mission Nears Launch For International Space Station
SpaceX's Axiom-2 mission nears launch for International Space Station after receiving approval from NASA and favorable weather conditions. The Launch Readiness Review was completed on May 20, and liftoff is scheduled for May 21 at 5:37 pm EDT (2:37 pm PDT) from NASA Kennedy Space Center's launch complex 39A, a historic site for numerous manned space missions.
According to Ken Bowersox, who is NASA’s associate administrator of space operations, during the May 15 press conference:
Today we had a review where we brought together members of the team from Axiom Space, SpaceX, and NASA to talk about the upcoming mission, and at the end of that review, the full team polled 'go.'
- Ken Bowersox, NASA’s associate administrator of space operations
The Ax-2 mission will be carried out by a diverse four-person crew comprising astronauts from the United States and Saudi Arabia. With extensive scientific and flight experience on Earth and in space, they will spend 10 days at the ISS. During their mission, they will engage in scientific research, commercial endeavors, and outreach activities aboard the expansive orbiting platform.
Dr. Peggy Whitson, the Ax-2 Commander, is a highly accomplished astronaut who brings a wealth of experience to the mission. As the sole crewmember with prior spaceflight experience, Dr. Whitson has an impressive track record of firsts and records during her tenure at NASA.
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She holds the American record for the most days spent in space (665), has conducted the highest number of spacewalks by a woman (10), and was the first woman to command the ISS during Expedition 16. Following her retirement from NASA in June 2018, Dr. Whitson became a consultant for Axiom Space. Her leadership on Ax-2 will make her the first woman to command a private space mission, adding another milestone to her extraordinary career.
John Shoffner, the Ax-2 Pilot, is an ardent space enthusiast and a strong advocate for STEM education. As the sole non-government crewmember who paid for his seat on the mission, Shoffner's lifelong passion for outer space has led him to this remarkable opportunity.
With over 8,500 flying hours and a flying career that began at the age of 17, Shoffner brings extensive experience to the mission. His adventurous spirit is evident through his more than 4,000 skydives, some of which he shared with his wife, Janine, whom he met while skydiving in 1999.
Alongside his successful aviation and skydiving endeavors, Shoffner is an accomplished athlete, participating in various sports such as motorsports, waterskiing, and cycling. His seat on Ax-2 is made possible by his achievements as a businessman, having founded and managed multiple startups throughout his career.
Axiom Space crew readies for trip to space station
Ali Alqarni, the Ax-2 Mission Specialist, is a captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) with an impressive flying background. Having accumulated nearly 2,400 flying hours on aircraft such as the F-15S, T-38, T-6, and Cessna 172, Alqarni brings valuable aviation expertise to the mission.
His fascination with space began after visiting NASA's Johnson Space Center during his RSAF training with the US Air Force. This experience sparked his interest, leading him to be chosen as an inaugural astronaut in the Saudi National Astronaut Program by the Saudi Space Commission. Besides his accomplishments in aviation, Alqarni is also an accomplished athlete, with activities like mountain hiking, bungee jumping, and completing various survival training courses and military deployments under his belt.
Rayyanah Barnawi, the Ax-2 Mission Specialist, is set to make history as the first Saudi woman to journey into space. With over a decade of experience in cancer stem-cell research, Barnawi is a distinguished biomedical researcher.
Prior to her selection for Ax-2, she served as a research laboratory technician in the Stem Cell and Tissue Re-engineering Program at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Saudi Arabia. Barnawi's passion for exploration extends beyond the laboratory, as she is an avid outdoor enthusiast and athlete.
She has engaged in activities such as hang gliding, scuba diving, hiking, and rafting in various locations worldwide. During her time aboard the ISS, Barnawi will continue her important work in breast cancer and stem cell research.
During their pre-mission quarantine on May 16, the Ax-2 crew participated in a press conference where they shared their experiences and expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming mission. Dr. Whitson highlighted that the crew has been diligently reviewing mission timelines and procedures while in quarantine to ensure they are fully prepared before liftoff.
If the scheduled liftoff of Ax-2 is successful tomorrow, the mission is planned to dock with the ISS on May 22 at 9:30 am EDT. However, in the event that Ax-2 does not meet its first launch window, a backup opportunity is available on May 22. If the mission is unable to proceed this weekend, the future launch date remains uncertain.
According to the statement of Joel Montalbano, who is NASA’s manager of the ISS Program,
We’re looking at May 21 and if we don’t (launch) by the 22nd, we’ll stand down with the Axiom-2 mission and turn our focus to the SpaceX CRS-28 mission.
- Joel Montalbano, NASA’s manager of the ISS Program
Ax-2 not only marks the second private space mission to the ISS but also represents a significant stride towards Axiom Space's ultimate objective of building the first commercial space station for humanity. The initial module is planned to be launched to the ISS in 2025 and will eventually transition to independent orbit as additional modules are attached. As we eagerly look ahead, let us extend our wishes for a safe and prosperous mission to the ISS for Ax-2. May humanity's journey toward the stars continue onward and upward!