NASA and its international partners have approved the crew for Axiom Space’s second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The mission, targeted for launch in spring 2023, 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.
Axiom Space’s Director of Human Spaceflight and former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will command the privately funded mission and 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, the US space agency said in a statement.
“Private astronaut missions are a key component to enable a successful transition to a model of commercially owned and operated platforms in low-Earth orbit,” said Angela Hart, manager of NASA’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Programme.
The Ax-2 crew will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and travel to the space station.
Once docked, the private astronauts plan to spend 10 days aboard the orbiting laboratory implementing a full mission of science, outreach, and commercial activities.
“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 station, leveraging the benefits of microgravity to a better life on Earth,” said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space.
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 space station.
In addition, she will add to her standing record for the longest cumulative time in space by a NASA astronaut.
“I’m honored to be heading back to the station for the fourth time, leading this talented Ax-2 crew on their first mission,” said Whitson.
The first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) was launched on April 8, 2022, with four private astronauts who spent 17 days in orbit working on 26 science payloads aboard the station.