Houston-based company Axiom Space is set to launch its second astronaut mission to the International Space Station on May 21, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of commercial spaceflight.
Known as Ax-2, the mission will see a diverse international crew of four embark on a 10-day journey to conduct a range of scientific experiments and technological demonstrations.
The Ax-2 mission will launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday afternoon. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will propel the crew towards the ISS at 5:37pm EDT in the Crew Dragon capsule, Freedom. The 45th Weather Squadron says weather is currently at 60% GO for launch
In keeping with SpaceX’s reusable rocket strategy, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster is expected to return to Earth for a landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1 shortly after launch.
Freedom’s journey to the ISS will take approximately 16 hours, culminating in a docking at the orbiting laboratory on Monday morning, May 22. The Ax-2 crew will then cohabit with the station’s current crew for eight days, engaging in independent research, technology demonstrations, and education and outreach activities.
Leading the Ax-2 mission is former NASA astronaut and current director of human spaceflight for Axiom, Peggy Whitson. Holding the record for the longest time spent in space by an American or any woman at 665 days, Whitson will be the first woman to command a privately funded mission to orbit. Her wealth of experience, including roles as Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office and NASA Astronaut Selection Board Chair, brings a valuable skillset to the mission.
John Shoffner, the mission’s pilot, is a business pioneer and advocate for STEM education. With a background in aviation from his youth, he now runs Dura-Line Corporation, a company that found global success in the fiber optic cable industry in the 1980s. His plans for the mission include several photography and amateur radio projects.
Ali AlQarni, a mission specialist and former fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force, brings a strong aviation background to Ax-2.
The second mission specialist, Rayyanah Barnawi, is a biomedical researcher specializing in cancer stem cell research and tissue reengineering. Barnawi and AlQarni are members of Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut class, marking another significant milestone as they become the first Saudi nationals to visit the ISS.
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The Ax-2 crew will conduct more than 20 scientific investigations during their mission. These range from developing DNA-based nanomaterials for cartilage repair, evaluating a new radiation-shielding polymer, and studying the process of cloud seeding in microgravity. The crew will also continue the tumor-organoids modeling investigation from Ax-1, focusing on improving the detection and treatment of precancerous and cancerous cells.
The Ax-2 mission is part of Axiom’s broader plans for low Earth orbit (LEO). With Ax-3 already scheduled for later this year, the company is steadily increasing its mission cadence. Additionally, Axiom is among a group of commercial entities aiming to build a private space station in LEO, with the first module of its station set to launch in late 2025. In the late 2020s, this private station will detach from the ISS to become a free-flying complex for research, manufacturing, and tourism.
The Ax-2 mission represents a significant leap forward in commercial spaceflight. As companies like Axiom continue to develop, the space industry is entering an era of international collaboration and innovation, paving the way for a future where space is more accessible than ever.
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