It is currently ongoing for the second individual astronaut trip to the International Space Station. The four-person Ax-2 mission of Houston-based business Axiom Space was launched at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT) today (May 21) from iconic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used by Ax-2 was successfully launched and staged before executing a boost-back burn to return to SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1, which is close to Pad 39A. Seven minutes and 45 seconds after launch, the booster safely landed at the location.
About 12 minutes after liftoff as scheduled, Ax-2’s SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, called Freedom, detached from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, prompting cheers from the mission’s astronauts and the launch team.
Bill Gerstenmaier, a chief engineer for SpaceX, gave the Ax-2 crew a thank-you message just after the historic event. “Thanks for putting your trust in the Falcon 9 team,” he said. “Hope you enjoyed the ride to space. Have a great trip on Dragon.”
The Ax-2 commander Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who has already logged more time (665 days) in space than any other American or woman, was then welcomed back to the final frontier by Gerstenmaier.
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“Good to be here,” Whitson said. “It was a phenomenal ride!” The International Space Station (ISS) docking is scheduled for Monday, May 22, at 9:24 a.m. EDT (1324 gmt). Freedom will spend the night pursuing the ISS.
Ax-2 is Freedom’s second space voyage, carrying SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission to the orbiting lab for NASA. (First stages of the Falcon 9 are also reusable, but the Ax-2 booster was in flight for the first time.) The mission is SpaceX’s eleventh human spaceflight.
After Ax-1 in April 2022, this is Axiom’s second privately funded crewed launch to the ISS. However, it marks a lot of firsts. Whitson, who oversees human spaceflight for Axiom, is the first female commander of a private crewed space mission. (She also held the distinction of being the first female commander of the ISS.)
The first astronaut class from Saudi Arabia provided two of the Ax-2 crew members. The first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS will be Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni.
Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to have ever been to space. Businessman and STEAM enthusiast John Shoffner will be piloting Ax-2 and flying as a paying passenger.
Shoffner is also going into space for the first time, fulfilling a lifetime desire and taking a significant step forward from the “astronaut club” he started when he was young with other kids in his neighborhood.
According to SpaceX, Shoffner, born in Alaska, is the first resident of that state to enter space. The Ax-2 crew members will live and work with the seven astronauts already residing on the ISS during their eight-day stay, but they will be carrying out their own independent research activities.
Ax-2 participants undergo various examinations and measures of their own bodies as part of one Ax-2 experiment run by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH).
Private spaceflight personnel frequently lack the substantial and demanding training that NASA astronauts receive, despite having a comprehensive certification before launch.
To maximize a crew’s productivity during brief flights to the ISS, TRISH aims to understand better how inexperienced crews will respond when initially exposed to microgravity.
You can also take a look at the tweet provided by SpaceX about Falcon 9 launches Ax-2, Dragon’s 10th human spaceflight:
Falcon 9 launches Ax-2, Dragon’s 10th human spaceflight pic.twitter.com/siptJyW3Se
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 22, 2023
“We built on lessons learned from Ax-1,” stated Derek Hassmann, Axiom’s chief of mission integration and operations, during a prelaunch briefing on Saturday (May 20).
He emphasized that Axiom focuses on “We did learn a lot about how to train these private astronaut mission crews.”
“how to train [private astronauts] better, what to focus on, what specific refreshers are important and how to better timeline the mission. Each of these missions we expect to be successful, but you also expect to kind of push the envelope on what we did before.”
During the news conference on Saturday, NASA ISS manager Joel Montalbano remarked, “What we’ve done is optimized the training that’s specific for the Axiom-2 crew.” He continued that ax-2 will be able to better adapt to the orbital environment thanks to one piece of feedback from the Ax-1 crew.
Montalbano said, “the Ax-1 mission, we had the crew fully scheduled, and then we had the NASA crew on orbit fully scheduled.”
“It probably makes more sense, at least in the beginning, to set up the team so that the on-orbit crew can help the Axiom crew get up and running and kind of get their space legs under them.”
Numerous other experiments will be carried out by the Ax-2 crew when they are at the space station. The Ax-2 astronauts will perform research for more than 20 projects and investigations in addition to the TRISH experiment.
They cover various topics, including DNA research, cancer research, cloud seeding that produces rain, and educational outreach that encourages STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) engagement globally.
Axiom Space has goals beyond just hiring astronauts for space missions. The business is currently developing a private space station that will launch modules to the ISS to launch it.
When enough of these modules are connected, Axiom’s station will separate from the ISS and establish itself as a stand-alone low-Earth orbit location.
Additionally, NASA has hired Axiom to create spacesuits for the moon’s surface for astronauts aboard the Artemis 3 mission, which is set to launch in late 2025 and travel toward the moon’s south pole.
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