SpaceX mission launch with a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers

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SpaceX Mission

On Sunday afternoon, a SpaceX rocket lifted off from Florida carrying an award-winning former NASA pilot and three paying customers. The group will remain on the International Space Station for a week.

Their trip, which was organized by a Houston company called Axiom Space, is the second fully private mission to the space station. The project, called AX-2, is making history because Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher from Saudi Arabia, is the first woman from her country to go into space.

On Sunday afternoon, the crew boarded the SpaceX rocket as weather experts kept a close eye on storms. Florida is entering its summer rainy season, which makes it a little more difficult to find the perfect rocket launch conditions.

Ultimately, though, weather officials gave the go-ahead for the launch and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket roared to life, launching the Crew Dragon ship and its four passengers into orbit.

The crew will spend the next 16 hours on Crew Dragon as it flies freely through Earth’s orbit and carefully moves to align with the International Space Station. On Monday at 9:24 am ET, the spacecraft should dock with the lab in space.

The AX-2 project is one of a series of missions that Axiom Space and NASA hope will keep the private sector interested in spaceflight, especially in low-Earth orbit, where the space station is located.

The AX-2 crew is led by Peggy Whitson, 63, a former NASA pilot who now works for Axiom. With this trip, Whitson also became the first woman to lead a private space flight.

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One of the three paying customers joining her is John Shoffner, an American who made his fortune in the international telecommunications business and founded the hardware company Dura-Line Corp.

Saudi Arabia also paid two Saudis, Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force, to fly.

Last week, Barnawi told reporters: “I am very honored and happy to represent all the hopes and dreams of all the people in Saudi Arabia and all the women back home.”

After the Crew Dragon spacecraft docks early Monday morning, the AX-2 crew will join the seven astronauts already aboard the space station.

The AX-2 guests will spend about eight days working with the current crew. During that time, they will work on more than 20 scientific studies and projects, including stem cell research and other biomedical projects.

Whitson hasn’t been back in space since 2017. Because he had spent so much time on the station before, he holds the US record for the most days spent in space overall and ranks eighth in space. all time list.

Whitson has flown on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and on NASA’s space shuttle. He said preparing for this trip was “obviously different” because he had to learn how to operate SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has only flown astronauts since 2020.

“Learning to use this spacecraft has been one of the hardest things for me,” he said. “But I’ve had a great time.”

Barnawi and AlQarni are the only two Saudis to have ever been in space. Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first. In 1985, he spent about a week on a NASA space shuttle flight.

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The Biden administration and Congress have been highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, but US-Saudi relations are still strong.

AlQarni said he believes that Arabs going into space are a “great opportunity” that can be a source of inspiration for the region.

You will have a very important message. “We are holding hands, working together for the good of all people and trying to generate new ideas,” he told reporters last week.

It’s not the first time people have paid to go into space. In the early 2000s, a company called Space Adventures booked trips on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for wealthy thrill seekers who wanted to take those trips to the space station.

Axiom brought this way of doing business to the US by working with SpaceX to establish a way for a wide range of customers to reach the space station. The company’s first flight, called AX-1, took off in April 2022. It was the first time that individuals from the US had visited the space station.

Axiom’s goal is to make these trips more common so that more people who are not professional astronauts can go to space. During a press conference before the launch, Derek Hassmann, who is in charge of mission integration and operations at Axiom Space, said his company hopes to land more customers like those from Saudi Arabia on the AX-2.

He said: “Government astronauts are, in fact, a key part of our business plan.” “At the beginning of the program, we weren’t clear on how businessmen and government astronauts would work together, as nothing like this had ever been done before. But it has become clear to us that the government market is the most important, so we eagerly pursued it.

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The people in charge of Axiom believe that private space travel will continue even after the space station is decommissioned, which NASA believes will happen in 2030. Axiom is one of several US companies that want to build a new space station that will be of private property. . It is an attempt that NASA is behind. The goal is to involve more private companies closer to home so that NASA can invest more money in deep space exploration.

The AX-2 crew will work on the space station with the professional astronauts, but they will have different routines. Once on board, the current team will show you how things work, including how to use the kitchen and bathroom. Hassmann says that some areas, like the airlock used by astronauts for spacewalks, will remain off limits.

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