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Ax-2 crew carrying personal, cultural mementoes on launch to ISS

The Axiom Space crew, from left to right, mission specialists Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, commander Peggy Whitson and pilot John Shoffner, are set to be the second all-private astronaut crew in space. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space
1 of 5 | The Axiom Space crew, from left to right, mission specialists Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, commander Peggy Whitson and pilot John Shoffner, are set to be the second all-private astronaut crew in space. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 16 (UPI) -- The second crew of astronauts set to launch on a totally private space mission said Tuesday they feel inspired by the responsibility and significance of their flight.

The four-member Axiom Space crew is scheduled to lift off at 5:37 p.m. EDT Sunday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They'll travel in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on a mission that includes eight days aboard the International Space Station.

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At the space station, they'll perform experiments ranging from scientific research, to industrial manufacturing and materials, to new medications.

"I am very honored and happy to be representing all the dreams and all the hopes of all people in Saudi Arabia, and all the women back home and the region," Ax-2 mission specialist Rayyanah Barnawi said at a livestreamed news conference from Orlando, Fla. She will become first Saudi woman in space.

Barnawi is carrying an earring from her grandmother on the mission. Fellow Saudi mission specialist Ali al-Qarni is bringing dates and Saudi coffee to share with the space station astronauts.

Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, commander of the mission, said she's taking a necklace from her wedding day that she has also worn on her three space shuttle missions.

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American pilot John Shoffner, an experienced private aviator, said he has been dreaming of going to space since the early 1960s.

He will carry a memento honoring the memory of astronaut Ed White, who died in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1967. A plastic model of the Gemini spacecraft that Shoffner helped built.

White's spirit, Shoffner said, "I imagine is going with me into space again."

Houston-based Axiom sees the runs to the space station as forerunners of commercial missions it plans to carry out aboard its own space station. The company expects to launch the laboratory in late 2025.

The project will involve partners in academia and industry in future missions to low-Earth orbit.

Sunday's launch will be the 10th human space flight for the Dragon spacecraft nicknamed "Freedom." Axiom sent the first private astronaut crew to the ISS for a 17-day mission in April 2022.

If all goes well, the capsule is scheduled to dock with the space station on Monday morning.

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