On Friday May 5th, NASA announced that the launch of the second-ever private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) would take place on May 21st. The launch of Ax-2 was originally scheduled for May 8th but the agency announced that it was postponing it for a couple of weeks.
Ax-2 will launch 13 months after Ax-1, which sent an all-private astronaut crew to the ISS for the first time ever. Like Ax-1, Ax-2 will be commanded by a former NASA astronaut in the employ of Axiom Space: Peggy Whitson, who has spent a total of 665 days in space, more than any other American.
“I actually feel very blessed that I have such an extremely talented crew that has not only met but surpassed the training requirements for this mission,” Whitson said during a press conference. “We’ve trained at NASA [and] SpaceX; we’ve also trained at the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency,” Whitson said. The team has done centrifuge training, she added, “zero G flights, outdoor and confined-environment training for team building,” she added. “So I really feel that that has prepared us very well.”
The four-person Axiom Space crew will fly to space in SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket to participate in a 12-day mission, including 10 days working and living on the orbiting laboratory to implement a full mission manifest of science, outreach, and commercial activities.
Peggy Whitson will lead the privately funded mission. Aviator John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, will serve as pilot. The two mission specialists are Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
This mission is historic. It will make the Kingdom one of the countries that brings two astronauts of the same nationality.Mohammed Bin Saud Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission
Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission continues progress toward the Axiom Station and a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy as humans venture farther for longer duration in space. The Ax-2 patch symbolic elements aim to highlight the important role of the ISS to unite the best aspects of humanity and the mission’s focus on STEAM outreach and inspiration. At the center of the patch is the ISS with a lavender ascent and path from Earth to space.
The color lavender has a special cultural meaning in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), representing the color of the nation’s deserts and plateaus in the spring when they are covered in flower blooms. At the bottom of the patch is, the Earth and the horizon, symbolizing hope and inspiration.
Surrounding the inner components of the patch, are the flags of the two countries flying as part of the Ax-2 mission, Commander Peggy Whitson and, Pilot John Schoffner of the United States of America, and the two Mission Specialists, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who are members of the inaugural Saudi national astronaut program.
“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.
Axiom Space’s long-term vision foresees more than flying private astronaut missions to and from the ISS. The space company plans to start launching modules to the ISS in 2025, to build up a private outpost that will detach and fly freely by the end of this decade. Axiom’s plan is to have the new commercial station running before the ISS retires in 2030.