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Axiom Space's second crewed mission gets green light

From left, mission specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi and commander Peggy Whitson and pilot John Shoffner are scheduled to head to the International Space Station on Sunday on Axiom Space's second private mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space
1 of 2 | From left, mission specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi and commander Peggy Whitson and pilot John Shoffner are scheduled to head to the International Space Station on Sunday on Axiom Space's second private mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 15 (UPI) -- Axiom Space's second, entirely private space mission is on track for a Sunday launch aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, officials said Monday.

The launch is planned for 5:37 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A. Should bad weather set in, controllers could try again the next day.

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If the weather does not cooperate, the mission could be delayed until the end of summer or beyond, NASA flight controllers said during a readiness review.

That's because the launch schedule space is getting crowded, and other missions have higher priorities, officials said.

Four astronauts under the auspices of Houston-based Axiom Space are scheduled conduct eight days of commercial and educational work aboard the space station, including technological demonstrations and production of innovative materials, as well as creating alternative biological substances.

"These missions are very important to us at NASA as we try to open up space, low Earth orbit especially, to a greater cross-section of society," said former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, now the space agency's associate administrator for space operations.

Axiom envisions these activities as precursors to future commercial missions performed aboard a private space station the company envisions launching in late-2025, cooperating with academic and industrial partners. The work will be done in low-Earth orbit.

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"There is a lot to be done there, and we think that the economy in low-Earth orbit will continue to expand," he said.

"Someday NASA will be just a participant in that economy, buying services from private industry ... as the agency goes out and explores on the cutting edge."

The four-member crew consists of former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, commander, and pilot John Shoffner, a private citizen and aviator with a deep passion for space exploration and adventure. Over 25 years, Shoffner has logged 8,500 hours of flying time.

Two citizens of Saudi Arabia are joining as mission specialists: Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, who will become the first Saudi woman to fly into space. Both are members of the Saudi national program, and they will be flying as part of an agreement between Axiom Space and the kingdom.

This second mission by Axiom Space and private astronauts will help expand space access worldwide, Michael Suffredini, the Axiom president and CEO, has said.

He has described the mission as a "step closer toward building a private space station in low-Earth orbit, making it possible to capitalize on the legacy and achievements of the International Space Station, "leveraging the benefits of microgravity to better life on Earth."

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