Axiom Space's Ax-2 Crew - (from left to right) Commander Peggy Whitson, Pilot John Shoffner, Mission Specialist Ali AlQarni and Mission Specialist Rayyanah Barnawi.
Commercial space leader Axiom Space today announced the full crew complement for Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), the second all-private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Axiom Space’s Director of Human Spaceflight Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut, will lead the privately funded mission, and aviator 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.
NASA and its ISS partners recently approved the Ax-2 crew, clearing a major milestone for the four-person multi-national team to travel to the orbiting laboratory.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Ax-2 crew aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once docked, the Axiom Space astronauts plan to spend 10 days aboard the orbiting laboratory implementing a full mission comprised of science, outreach, and commercial activities. The mission is targeted for launch in the spring of 2023 and 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 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 ISS, leveraging the benefits of microgravity to better life on Earth.”
Ax-2 Commander Peggy Whitson
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 ISS. In addition, she will add to her standing record for the longest cumulative time in space of any astronaut in the history of the U.S. space program.
“I’m honored to be heading back to the ISS 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.”
Ax-2 Pilot John Shoffner
Shoffner, a pioneering businessman, aviator, and STEM advocate, has always had an interest in space, the stars, and aviation. He formed a young astronauts club with his friends as a child while following the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions and is a powerful advocate for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education. He has continued to pursue flying, becoming a pilot at the age of 17 and has since amassed more than 8,500 flight hours, holding ratings for multiple aircraft types. He is a competitive athlete in a variety of sports and founded his own motorsports team, J2-Racing.
"I'm excited for the opportunity to fly aboard Ax-2 with this talented crew, illustrating the importance of access to space for all," said Shoffner. "It will be my pleasure to share this experience with students and educators around the world with hopes to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists, artists, musicians, and space pioneers."
Ax-2 Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi
Mission Specialists AlQarni and Barnawi, representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will be the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS. This mission represents a return to human spaceflight for Saudi Arabia and will make KSA the first nation not part of the official International Space Station partnership to have two astronauts aboard the ISS at the same time. While 263 people from 20 countries have visited the ISS, KSA will become only the sixth nation to have two national astronauts simultaneously working aboard the orbiting laboratory.
In the official release shared by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announcing the two Saudi astronauts on the Ax-2 mission, it stated, “This flight is an integral milestone of a comprehensive program aiming to train and qualify experienced Saudis to undertake human spaceflight, conduct scientific experiments, participate in international research, and future space-related missions contributing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”
Axiom Space Astronaut Training
Axiom Space is the commercial space industry’s only full-service orbital mission provider conducting end-to-end crewed missions for private astronauts, both private individuals and those representing foreign governments. Axiom Space's broad range of services – in collaboration with NASA and SpaceX – includes training and flying private astronauts, access to training facilities and instructors, hardware and safety certification, and operational on-orbit management.
Candidates for flight complete Axiom Space's rigorous training curriculum over many months in preparation to live and conduct meaningful work in space. The expert team at Axiom Space is helping nations and organizations build human spaceflight programs, develop astronaut selection programs, and provide the expertise needed to expand the international community of space explorers to a larger and more diverse representation of humanity.
The first private astronaut mission to the ISS, Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), launched April 8, 2022, with four private astronauts who spent 17 days in orbit working on 26 science payloads aboard the station and conducting more than 30 STEAM educational and public outreach engagements. The crew splashed down off the coast of Florida on April 25, 2022, to conclude the historic mission.
Private astronaut missions to the ISS are a precursor to Axiom Station, the world’s first private space station, part of NASA’s efforts to develop a thriving low-Earth orbit ecosystem and commercial marketplace.