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NASA announces crew for Axiom Mission 2

The SpaceX Dragon Endeavour crew ship that carried four Axiom Mission 1 astronauts to the space station is pictured docked to the Harmony module. File photo courtesy of NASA
1 of 4 | The SpaceX Dragon Endeavour crew ship that carried four Axiom Mission 1 astronauts to the space station is pictured docked to the Harmony module. File photo courtesy of NASA

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The crew for NASA's next privately-funded mission to space has been selected as the agency moves closer toward commercializing space travel.

Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut, will be in command of Axiom Mission 2, which will be piloted by businessman John Shoffner, NASA said in a press release released Monday. Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, members of Saudi Arabia's first national astronaut program, will serve as specialists for the mission.

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Commercial space technology company Axiom Space is funding the mission, which will send the crew to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. They will spend 10 days at the space station taking part in several activities, including commercial and outreach activities.

"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 will be a mission of firsts. It will be the first to include astronauts who are part of a foreign government agency and it will be the first commercial mission with a woman at the command position, NASA said.

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Whitson has spent 665 days in space -- a U.S. record -- and embarked on 10 spacewalks.

"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."

The first Axiom Space and NASA mission, Ax-1, was completed last April. The mission was scheduled to last 10 days but weather conditions kept the crew in space for an extra week.

NASA said private astronaut missions are a step toward privately funded commercial space stations. The agency is examining proposals for more private missions.

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