NASA and Axiom Space have signed an agreement for the second all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), targeted for launch in the spring of 2023. The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the ISS with four private astronauts on board. They will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and ride a Dragon capsule to and from the space station, similar to the first Axiom mission in April 2022.
Axiom Space’s Director of Human Spaceflight Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut, will lead the privately funded mission, and aviator John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, will serve as pilot. The two mission specialists, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are members of the inaugural Saudi national astronaut program.
This mission is historic as it will make the Kingdom one of the few countries in the world that brings two astronauts of the same nationality aboard the International Space Station simultaneously.Mohammed Bin Saud Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission
Once docked, the Axiom Space astronauts plan to spend 10 days aboard the orbiting laboratory implementing a full mission comprised of science, outreach, and commercial activities. This will be the first private space mission to include both private astronauts and astronauts representing foreign governments, as well as the first private mission commanded by a woman.
“Ax-2 moves Axiom Space one step closer toward the realization of a commercial space station in low-Earth orbit and enables us to build on the legacy and achievements of the ISS, leveraging the benefits of microgravity to better life on Earth”, said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space.
1. Peggy Whitson, Ax-2 Commander
I’m honoured to be heading back to the ISS for the fourth time, leading this talented Ax-2 crew on their first mission.Peggy Whitson
Whitson will become the first female commander of a private space mission, adding to her prior accomplishments, including as NASA’s chief astronaut and the first female commander of the ISS. In addition, she will add to her standing record for the longest cumulative time in space of any astronaut in the history of the US space program.
“This is a strong and cohesive team determined to conduct meaningful scientific research in space and inspire a new generation about the benefits of microgravity. It’s a testament to the power of science and discovery to unify and build international collaboration”, said Whitson.
2. John Shoffner, Ax-2 Pilot
I’m excited for the opportunity to fly aboard Ax-2 with this talented crew, illustrating the importance of access to space for all.John Shoffner
Shoffner, a pioneering businessman, aviator and STEM advocate, has always had an interest in space, the stars and aviation. He formed a young astronauts club with his friends as a child, following the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and is a powerful advocate for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) education. He has continued to pursue flying, becoming a pilot at the age of 17 and has since amassed more than 8,500 flight hours, holding ratings for multiple aircraft types. He is a competitive athlete in a variety of sports and founded his own motorsports team, J2-Racing.
“It will be my pleasure to share this experience with students and educators around the world with hopes to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists, artists, musicians, and space pioneers”, said Shoffner.
3. Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, Ax-2 Mission Specialists
Mission Specialists AlQarni and Barnawi, representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will be the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS. This mission represents a return to human spaceflight for Saudi Arabia and will make KSA the first nation not part of the official International Space Station partnership to have two astronauts aboard the ISS at the same time. While 263 people from 20 countries have visited the ISS, KSA will become only the sixth nation to have two national astronauts simultaneously working aboard the orbiting laboratory.
AlQarni graduated with a Bachelor of Aerospace Science from King Faisal Air Academy. He is an Air Force captain and fighter pilot with 12 years of experience flying fighter aircrafts and 2,387 flight hours.
Barnawi has a Master of Biomedical Sciences from Alfaisal University and a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences from Otago University. She is a research laboratory technician with nine years of experience in breast cancer and cancer stem-cell research.
“This flight is an integral milestone of a comprehensive program aiming to train and qualify experienced Saudis to undertake human spaceflight, conduct scientific experiments, participate in international research, and future space-related missions contributing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030“, the Saudi Space Commission said in a statement.