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A SpaceX rocket carrying a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers took off from Florida on Sunday afternoon. The crew will begin a week-long stay aboard the International Space Station.
Their flight was compiled by a Houston-based company Axiom Space, marks the second special mission to the outpost. The mission called AX-2 makes history as stem cell researcher Rayana Barnawi becomes the first Saudi woman to travel to space.
The crew climbed aboard a SpaceX rocket Sunday afternoon while weather officials kept a close eye on the thunderstorm. Florida is entering its summer rainy season, which makes finding pristine conditions for rocket launches a little more difficult.
However, Weather officials eventually gave it all up to launch, and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted back to life, carrying the Crew Dragon capsule and its four passengers into orbit.
The crew is expected to spend the next 16 hours aboard the Crew Dragon as it flies freely through Earth’s orbit, performing delicate maneuvers to align itself with the International Space Station. The spacecraft should dock with the orbiting laboratory at 9:24 a.m. ET on Monday.
Joe Riedel/Getty Images
Saudi astronaut Rayana Barnawi (far left), former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, investor and pilot John Shoffner, and Saudi astronaut Ali Al-Qarni wave before being brought into a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon launch vehicle from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Center on May 21, 2023 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The AX-2 mission is one of a family of missions that Axiom Space and NASA hope will continue to spur private sector participation in spaceflight — particularly in low Earth orbit, where the space station is located.
The AX-2 crew is led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, 63, now an Axiom employee. With this mission, Whitson also became the first woman to command a private space flight.
One of the three paying clients to join it is John Choffner, an American who made his fortune in international communications and founded the hardware company Dura-Line Corp.
Saudi Arabia also paid for the transfer of two citizens, Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force.
“I am honored and happy to represent all the dreams and hopes of all people in Saudi Arabia and all women back home,” Bernawi Tell correspondents last week.
After the Crew Dragon capsule docks early Monday, the AX-2 crew will join seven astronauts already aboard the space station.
AX-2 passengers will spend about eight days working alongside existing crew members. During that time, they’ll work through a portfolio of more than 20 research and science projects – including stem cells and more. Biomedical research.
This marks Whitson’s first return to space since 2017. Her extensive previous experience on the station made her the US record holder for the most days logged in space, and she ranks eighth on the all-time list.
Whitson has flown a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as well as NASA’s space shuttle, but said preparation for the mission was “clearly different” because it involved training to operate the SpaceX crew, which has only been flying astronauts since 2020.
“One of the biggest challenges for me has been learning about this particular spacecraft,” she said. “But I really enjoyed it.”
Barnawi and Al-Qarni are the second and third Saudis to travel to space. The first was Prince Sultan bin Salmanwho spent about a week on a NASA space shuttle mission in 1985.
faced Saudi Arabia A barrage of criticism from the Biden administration and Congress over its human rights record, despite the ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia It stays strong.
Al-Qarni said he believes the participation of Arabs in space travel is a “great opportunity” that can inspire the region.
It will carry a big message. “We’re intertwined, working together for the betterment of humanity and just trying to innovate,” he said during a press briefing last week.
This isn’t the first time individuals have pushed their way into space. A company called Space Adventures mediated Many of these trips to the space station in the early 2000s, booking flights for wealthy thrill-seekers aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Axiom brought this business model to the United States, partnering with SpaceX to establish a framework for bringing a host of customers to the space station. The company’s first mission, AX-1, is launched in April 2022 and marked The first time private citizens traveled to the space station from American soil.
Axiom’s goal is to make these tasks routine, providing more opportunities for people who aren’t professional astronauts to experience spaceflight. During a pre-launch press conference, Derek Hussmann, president of Mission Integration and Operations for Axiom Space, said his company expects to see more customers sponsored by governments similar to AX-2 passengers from Saudi Arabia.
“Government astronauts are really an essential part of our business plan,” he said. “Early in the program…it wasn’t clear to us what the balance would be between individuals and government astronauts because nothing like this had been done before. But it became clear to us that government…the market is key, and we’re actively pursuing that.” .
Axiom leadership envisions that private spaceflight will continue even after the space station is retired, which NASA expects to happen. It takes place in the year 2030. Axiom is One from several states Artillery companies to Create a new privately owned space station. It’s a NASA-backed effort that aims to foster private sector participation closer to home so the agency can focus on investing in deep space exploration.
The AX-2 crew will work alongside the space station’s professional astronauts, although they will operate on different schedules. Once on board, they will rely on the existing crew to show them the ropes, including the galley and bathroom. And some areas will remain off-limits, such as the airlock used by astronauts to conduct spacewalks, according to Hussmann.
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