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Historic SpaceX Mission Successfully Docks With Space Station

Historic SpaceX mission successfully docks with space station, as a momentous weeklong mission commenced as a SpaceX capsule successfully connected to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying a renowned former NASA astronaut and three individuals who paid for the extraordinary opportunity.

Author:Karan Emery
Reviewer:Daniel James
May 23, 2023
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Historic SpaceX mission successfully docks with space station, as a momentous weeklong mission commenced as a SpaceX capsule successfully connected to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying a renowned former NASA astronaut and three individuals who paid for the extraordinary opportunity.
Following its launch from Florida on Sunday afternoon, the crew spent approximately 16 hours aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, skillfully navigating its way towards the space station situated approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. At precisely 9:12 a.m. ET, the spacecraft flawlessly docked with the space station, marking a significant milestone in this historic journey.
The AX-2 mission, organized by Axiom Space, a Houston-based company, represents the second all-private endeavor to the International Space Station (ISS). This historic mission signifies a significant shift in space exploration, with commercial entities taking the lead instead of government agencies.
Moreover, the AX-2 mission is a remarkable milestone for stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi, who becomes the first woman from Saudi Arabia to venture into space, further advancing gender representation in the field. The AX-2 mission is part of a series of initiatives aimed at fostering private sector involvement in space travel, particularly in the realm of low-Earth orbit where the ISS is situated. These endeavors seek to encourage and facilitate increased participation from commercial entities in the exciting frontier of space exploration.

Meet The AX-2 Crew

Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, aged 63, and currently an employee of Axiom, assumes the leadership role for the AX-2 crew. This remarkable achievement not only marks her as a pioneering figure in space exploration but also designates her as the first woman to command a private spaceflight. Peggy Whitson's leadership on this mission adds another significant milestone to her already illustrious career.
“I’m really excited about returning to space, but even more excited about welcoming three new astronauts,” Whitson said in a dispatch from the Crew Dragon spacecraft after launch.
Among the three paying customers accompanying Peggy Whitson is John Shoffner, an American entrepreneur who amassed his wealth through the international telecom industry and is the founder of Dura-Line Corp, a hardware company.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia has funded the opportunity for two of its citizens to participate in the mission. Rayyanah Barnawi, the stem cell researcher mentioned earlier, represents the first woman from Saudi Arabia to journey into space. Joining her is Ali AlQarni, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force, contributing to the diverse composition of the AX-2 crew.
The four astronauts holding each other while posing for a photo
The four astronauts holding each other while posing for a photo
Following the successful opening of the hatch on the Crew Dragon spacecraft after 11 a.m. ET, the AX-2 crew joyfully emerged from the 13-foot-wide capsule and joined the existing seven astronauts already stationed aboard the space station.
A heartwarming welcome ceremony took place on Monday, where all eleven astronauts gathered together. Sergey Prokopyev, the current ISS commander from Russia, warmly addressed the AX-2 crew, saying, "Welcome dear friends. It is very nice to see you here." This momentous gathering marked a significant occasion as the crews from different nations united in space exploration.
Barnawai greeted with enthusiasm, exclaiming, "Greetings from outer space." “I’m here not only representing myself but representing the hopes and dreams of everyone back home,” She said. “We are here gathering with different cultures, and this international collaboration - this shows how space brings everyone together.”
Over the course of approximately eight days, the AX-2 passengers will engage in various activities and contribute to the operations of the space station. Their agenda includes a comprehensive roster of more than 20 investigations and scientific projects, encompassing areas such as stem cell research and biomedical studies.
For Peggy Whitson, this mission signifies her long-awaited return to space after her previous venture in 2017. With her remarkable tenure on the space station, she holds the record among U.S. astronauts for the highest number of cumulative days spent in space, securing the eighth position on the all-time list. Her wealth of experience will undoubtedly prove invaluable during this mission and contribute to its success.
Having previously flown on both a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and NASA's space shuttle, Peggy Whitson acknowledged that preparing for this mission presented a distinct experience. The notable difference stemmed from the fact that she and her crewmates had to undergo training specifically focused on operating SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The unique aspect of this preparation was that Crew Dragon has been utilized for crewed missions only since 2020. Consequently, the crew had to adapt to the spacecraft's systems and procedures, showcasing their flexibility and ability to navigate the evolving landscape of space exploration technology.
"That’s been one of the biggest challenges for me is learning this particular spacecraft,” she said. “But I’ve really enjoyed it."
Barnawi and AlQarni represent the second and third Saudi individuals to venture into space, following in the footsteps of Prince Sultan bin Salman, who embarked on a NASA space shuttle mission in 1985, spending approximately a week in space.
While Saudi Arabia has faced criticism from the Biden administration and Congress regarding its human rights record, the ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia remain robust.
AlQarni expressed his belief that the involvement of Arabs in spaceflight presents a significant opportunity that can serve as inspiration for the region. He emphasized the profound message it conveys, stating, "We are holding hands, we are working together for the betterment of humanity and just trying to innovate." This sentiment, shared during a recent news briefing, reflects the aspiration to unite and advance as a global community, transcending borders and contributing to the progress of humankind.

SpaceX crew Dragon Freedom docks at ISS

The Future Of Private Spaceflight

The concept of individuals paying for space travel is not entirely new. In the early 2000s, a company named Space Adventures facilitated several missions in which wealthy enthusiasts could book trips to the space station aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, effectively pioneering commercial space tourism.
Axiom Space has now introduced a similar business model to the United States. By partnering with SpaceX, they have established a framework for enabling a diverse range of customers to journey to the space station. In April 2022, Axiom successfully launched their inaugural mission, AX-1, which marked the significant milestone of private citizens traveling to the space station from US soil.
This achievement highlights the increasing accessibility and commercialization of space exploration, opening doors for more individuals to participate in the extraordinary experience of space travel.
Axiom Space's objective is to establish a regular and routine cadence of missions, thereby expanding the availability of spaceflight experiences to individuals who are not professional astronauts. By making space travel more accessible, Axiom aims to provide more opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to partake in this extraordinary adventure.
Derek Hassmann, the Chief of Mission Integration and Operations at Axiom Space, expressed during a prelaunch news conference that the company anticipates an increase in the number of customers sponsored by governments, akin to the AX-2 passengers from Saudi Arabia. This suggests a growing trend of governments collaborating with commercial spaceflight companies to enable their citizens to participate in space missions, further promoting international cooperation and expanding the reach of space exploration.
According to Hassmann:
Government astronauts are indeed a key piece of our business plan. Early in the program, it wasn’t clear to us what the balance would be between private individuals and government astronauts since nothing like this had ever been done before. But it’s become clear to us that the government, market is key, and we’re pursuing that actively.- Derek Hassmann, the Chief of Mission Integration and Operations at Axiom Space
Axiom Space's leadership envisions a future where private spaceflight continues even after the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS), which NASA anticipates will occur around 2030. Axiom is among several American companies striving to establish a new privately owned space station. This initiative is supported by NASA, as it aims to foster increased private sector involvement in activities closer to Earth, allowing the agency to concentrate its resources on deep-space exploration endeavors.
During their time on the space station, the AX-2 crew will collaborate with the professional astronauts already aboard. However, they will follow different schedules and routines. While on board, they will rely on the existing crew members to guide them through various tasks, including familiarizing them with the operations of the kitchen and bathroom facilities. It's worth noting that certain areas, such as the airlock used for spacewalks, will remain off-limits to the AX-2 crew, ensuring safety and adherence to established protocols, as explained by Derek Hassmann.
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Karan Emery

Karan Emery

Author
Karan Emery, an accomplished researcher and leader in health sciences, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, brings over two decades of experience to the table. Holding a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Stanford University, Karan's credentials underscore her authority in the field. With a track record of groundbreaking research and numerous peer-reviewed publications in prestigious journals, Karan's expertise is widely recognized in the scientific community. Her writing style is characterized by its clarity and meticulous attention to detail, making complex scientific concepts accessible to a broad audience. Apart from her professional endeavors, Karan enjoys cooking, learning about different cultures and languages, watching documentaries, and visiting historical landmarks. Committed to advancing knowledge and improving health outcomes, Karan Emery continues to make significant contributions to the fields of health, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.
Daniel James

Daniel James

Reviewer
Daniel James is a distinguished gerontologist, author, and professional coach known for his expertise in health and aging. With degrees from Georgia Tech and UCLA, including a diploma in gerontology from the University of Boston, Daniel brings over 15 years of experience to his work. His credentials also include a Professional Coaching Certification, enhancing his credibility in personal development and well-being. In his free time, Daniel is an avid runner and tennis player, passionate about fitness, wellness, and staying active. His commitment to improving lives through health education and coaching reflects his passion and dedication in both professional and personal endeavors.
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