In a thrilling display of human ingenuity, SpaceX launched the second-ever commercial Axiom astronaut mission (Ax-2) to the International Space Station (ISS) today. A Falcon 9 rocket soared into the heavens from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A at 5:37 p.m. ET, marking the start of an extraordinary adventure. Perched atop the rocket is the Crew Dragon spacecraft, aptly named ‘Freedom,’ carrying the international four-person Ax-2 crew, including Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi.
Liftoff of Ax-2! pic.twitter.com/YS3SDuStNy— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 21, 2023
After a nerve-wracking twelve minutes following liftoff, the spacecraft triumphantly separated from the Falcon 9, paving the way for its journey to the ISS. Axiom Space’s Director of Human Spaceflight Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who holds the esteemed U.S. record for the longest cumulative time spent in space, will command a trio of new spacefarers. “I have shared a long long list of what we’re going to do, what we’re not going to do, how we’re going to do things, and the whys behind all of those,” she said. “There are so many lessons learned after being up in space for 665 days, I’ve got one or two lessons I’ve maybe learned the hard way, and I’m trying to save them some time because our mission is relatively short. So we want to make sure we get the most out of every one of those days,” said Whitson at the press conference before liftoff. The Ax-2 crew’s mission will last 10 days, and they will spend 8 at the Space Station.
Dragon has separated from Falcon 9’s second stage pic.twitter.com/VXIehFoiPN— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 21, 2023
Among the ranks of new spacefarers is John Shoffner, an American motorsports racing driver, investor, who is serving as pilot for the Ax-2 mission. Accompanying them are Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, both astronauts selected by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Space Commission. Alqarni and Barnawi are the second and third Saudi citizens to venture into space, following in the footsteps of Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who embarked on a NASA Space Shuttle mission in 1985.
The Ax-2 mission is a giant leap for equality in the Arab Kingdom and Middle East regions. Rayyanah Barnawi etches her name in the annals of history as the first female Saudi astronaut, blazing a trail for future generations of women in space. She is a biomedical researcher with almost a decade of experience in cancer stem-cell research. Her flying to space is particularly important for women in the region, where they have long-awaited to have equal rights as their male counterparts. Not so long ago, the Saudi government changed some laws and finally allowed women to drive legally on the roads in 2018. That same year, the Arab Kingdom ended gender segregation in public spaces (like sports arenas, cinemas, gyms, etc.), women are no longer expected to be accompanied by a male everywhere they go and foreign female travelers are no longer expected to wear headscarves in public. Now, the first Saudi Arabian woman is in outer space demonstrating that the sky is not the limit to Freedom. “I am very honored and happy to be representing all the dreams and all the hopes of all the people in Saudi Arabia and all the women back home,” said Barnawi. “This is a great opportunity for me to represent the country, to represent their dreams.”
“We're very excited for the part that will be engaging with kids from all over Saudi Arabia and all over the world, talking about our experiments, talking about space and having them trigger their curiosity towards space,” Barnawi said before lifting off. “Seeing people from their own region going to the space station with the great commander Peggy and international partners is a great thing for them, just being able to understand that this is possible… And if me and Ali can do it, then they can do it, too.”
Ax-2 is go for launch pic.twitter.com/GJZDES7HN4— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 21, 2023
Crew Dragon Freedom is scheduled to dock at the Space Station at 9:16 a.m. ET on Monday, May 22nd. Once at the orbiting lab, the Ax-2 crew will conduct over 20 groundbreaking experiments spanning diverse fields, including life sciences and in-space manufacturing. They will also showcase Axiom’s novel technology that aims to forge a path towards developing commercial modules to augment the ISS, with the ultimate goal to someday build its own space station in Low Earth Orbit to expand commercial capabilities. "First opportunity to talk live with the Ax-2 crew on-orbit will be in roughly 1.5 hours at ~8:40 p.m ET tonight. Will confirm ~15 min prior to start of the event," announced SpaceX. You can also watch the Ax-2 crew dock to the ISS on Monday via NASA TV, linked in the video below (event schedule is in Eastern Time).
NASA TV SCHEDULE
Monday, May 22
7:30 a.m. – Coverage of the rendezvous and docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Axiom Mission Ax-2 to the International Space Station. Docking is scheduled for 9:24 a.m. Coverage will continue through hatch opening at 11:13 a.m., and the Crew’s welcoming remarks at 11:45 a.m. ET.
WATCH IT LIVE!
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All Featured Images Source: SpaceX & Axiom
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.