NASA has announced that the International Space Station (ISS) partners have cleared Axiom-2 for launch and docking to the ISS.
Axiom-2 will be the second crewed mission to the ISS. Axiom Space’s first mission, Axiom-1, went to the International Space Station in April 2022. It spent 17 days docked to the International Space Station, conducting scientific experiments and commercial activities for Axiom Space. It had to tolerate a delay in its return to Earth due to poor weather at its splashdown site. It was commanded by Michael Lopez-Alegria, who previously served on three Space Shuttle missions and commanded Expedition 14 on the International Space Station.
Peggy Whitson will command the Axiom-2 (Ax-2) mission. According to NASA, Peggy Whitson has the most cumulative time in space of any NASA astronaut. Her previous experience includes three increments, or “Expeditions,” on the International Space Station. She also previously served as the chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office. Whitson is currently Axiom Space’s Director of Human Spaceflight.
“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. “This is a strong and cohesive team determined to conduct meaningful scientific research in space and inspire a new generation about the benefits of microgravity. It’s a testament to the power of science and discovery to unify and build international collaboration.”
Why does Axiom Space hire people like Michael Lopez-Alegria and Peggy Whitson for the job? Well, NASA requires that privately organized missions to the ISS be commanded by an experienced NASA astronaut. This is probably for safety reasons, as it would be easy for relative novices to hurt themselves or damage important equipment.
(No, NASA probably didn’t like having Dennis Tito on board the ISS.)
Axiom-2 crew members also include Pilot John Shoffner and Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi are part of Saudi Arabia’s inaugural astronaut program. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made arrangements with Axiom Space for seats on its spaceflights.
Didn’t somebody else book flights to the ISS on SpaceX’s Crew Dragons…? Well, yes, the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre also made arrangements with Axiom Space and SpaceX to have one of its astronauts serve a six-month increment on the International Space Station as part of the Crew-6 mission, which will also launch in Spring 2023.
The fully private Axiom missions are part of Axiom Space’s preparations to add inflatable modules to the International Space Station. The modules will eventually be spun off into one of the first fully privately owned orbiting space stations. It plans to lease space on its space station to organizations like NASA.
“Axiom Space’s second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station cements our mission of expanding access to space worldwide and supporting the growth of the low-Earth orbit economy as we build Axiom Station,” said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space. “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 better life on Earth.”
Axiom-2 will launch in Spring 2023. The exact launch date is still to be determined. Its crew will spend ten days conducting scientific experiments and making preparations for Axiom Space’s inflatable modules.