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NASA readies for its second all-private mission to ISS

NASA, in partnership with Axiom Space and SpaceX, is making final preparations for the second all-private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The four Ax-2 crewmembers will travel to the station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Mission planners are currently targeting the afternoon of Sunday, May 21, for the launch of the private mission.

The crewmembers — Peggy Whitson, mission commander and Axiom’s director of human spaceflight; John Shoffner, pilot; Ali Alqarni, mission specialist; and Rayyanah Barnawi, mission specialist — will spend about 10 days aboard the orbital outpost, living and working alongside the current crew of seven astronauts.

Whitson is a former American astronaut who participated in three long-duration space flights during which she accumulated 665 days in space — more than any other American astronaut or female astronaut globally.

Shoffner is a successful U.S. businessman and investor, while Alqarni, an experienced pilot, and Barnawi, a biomedical researcher, will become the first people from Saudi Arabia to visit the ISS.

Each seat aboard Axiom Space’s private missions is believed to cost around $50 million, which will come out of the participant’s pocket or via funding.

The mission

During their time in microgravity conditions, the Ax-2 members will carry out various scientific research, investigate novel technologies, and engage with audiences around the world in an effort to inspire interest in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics.

Part of their work also involves laying the groundwork and identifying the key capabilities required for the Axiom Station, a commercial space station being developed by Axiom Space that could go into operation before the end of this decade.

The Ax-2 crewmembers recently completed a period of intensive training to get them familiar with the interior of the space station. They’re now in a two-week quarantine period to ensure they don’t take any bugs with them to the ISS.

The #Ax2 crew completed weeks of hands-on training of all the systems found onboard the @Space_Station From inside the US Lab mockup @NASA_Johnson the Ax-2 crew can simulate and rehearse various events. pic.twitter.com/1RbEeQAsvw

— Axiom Space (@Axiom_Space) May 10, 2023

Axiom Space, SpaceX, and NASA previously partnered in April 2022 to launch the first all-private crewed mission — Ax-1 — from U.S. soil. The trip was supposed to last 10 days but the four crewmates ended up staying aboard the ISS for another week when rough weather at the landing site delayed their homecoming.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson described the voyage as an “important step in opening opportunities for space travelers and achieving NASA’s goal of enabling commercial business off the planet in low-Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, has also organized privately funded trips to the ISS over the years, but those missions always included a working cosmonaut.

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