By: April Carson
On Sunday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a group of private astronauts - including a legendary astronaut, two Saudis, and a wealthy adventurer - to the International Space Station. It's the second ever "private astronaut mission," with the intent of paving the way for commercial development in the high frontier of space.
At 5:37 p.m. EDT, the Falcon 9's first stage roared to life. Accompanied by the deafening sound of nine Merlin engines, the rocket surged forward to a powerful thrust of 1.7 million pounds. The rocket gracefully cleared the historic pad 39A and embarked on an awe-inspiring mission from the Kennedy Space Center.
With northeasterly trajectory, a slender rocket put on a breathtaking weekend sky display, thrilling countless tourists and residents lining nearby roads and beaches. It disappeared into a high bank of clouds, leaving behind a trail of wonder.
Commander Peggy Whitson and co-pilot John Shoffner, flanked on either side by first-time Saudi fliers, were actively monitoring the automated ascent of the Crew Dragon "Freedom" capsule. Among the crew members were Ali Alqarni, a veteran F-16 fighter pilot, and Rayyanah Barnawi, a distinguished biomedical researcher.
Whitson, the most experienced American astronaut, with 665 days in space and 10 spacewalks, has retired from NASA after three impressive missions. Shoffner, who, on the other hand, is a veteran private pilot, high-performing race car driver, and skydiver, retired as a fiber optics entrepreneur.
Shoffner paid an undisclosed sum to Axiom for his Crew Dragon seat, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia financed its two astronauts. Whitson, now Axiom Space's Director of Human Spaceflight, chartered with the company.
After her final NASA mission, Whitson expressed, "I longed to soar amongst the stars again, but the pragmatic voice inside me said I wouldn't likely get the chance. So, it's an overwhelming joy to have the opportunity to take flight with Axiom."
Following its successful launch out of the dense lower atmosphere, the inaugural flight of the reusable first stage involved it descending and returning towards the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for a landing as the Falcon 9’s second stage persevered in propelling the payload to orbit.
During previous Crew Dragon missions, booster stages were retrieved from offshore barges and refurbished for reuse. However, it has been found that these stages have been performing even better than anticipated. As a result, there has been enough fuel left over to return them back to the launch site. Recently, the Ax-2 first stage made a pristine landing, producing twin sonic booms, a mere eight minutes after takeoff. This marks a major milestone for SpaceX, as they have now fulfilled their goal of demonstrating a safe and reusable launch system.
The crew is set to conduct an automated rendezvous with the space station, with plans to intercept the lab complex on Monday morning and proceed towards docking at the forward Harmony module's space-facing port at precisely 9:16 a.m. Assuming everything goes according to schedule, this mission should proceed without issue.
Joining Expedition 69 are Commander Sergey Prokopyev, along with his Soyuz MS-23 crewmates Dmitri Petelin and NASA's Frank Rubio. Accompanying them are NASA Crew 6 fliers Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg, cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, and UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, ready to embark on an incredible journey.
Alneyadi, the second UAE astronaut to venture into space, is now proud to become the first Arab to partake in a lengthy mission as a member of the ISS crew. He will be joined by Alqarni and Barnawi, making the Middle East representation three out of the eleven crew members.
Axiom's Ax-2 flight marks the second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. This mission, taking place on a recurring basis, aims to promote private-sector innovation in low-Earth orbit. NASA plans on sanctioning up to two such missions annually.
Alqarni and Barnawi will make history as the second and third Saudis to journey into space, following in the footsteps of Sultan Salman Al-Saud in 1985. What's more, they'll be the very first Saudis to visit the space station, and Barnawi will be the first Saudi woman to take flight among the stars.
The team comprising Whitson, Shoffner, Alqarni and Barnawi will accomplish a grand total of 20 research projects in a span of eight days. A vast majority of these projects will be the brainchild of ingenious Saudi scientists, exploring human physiology, cell biology, and technology development.
Whitson and her team will depart from the station on May 30th. The Crew Dragon will make an intense re-entry into the lower atmosphere before descending via parachute to the waters off Florida's coast. SpaceX recovery crews will be ready and waiting for their return.
Whitson, a highly esteemed astronaut, expressed her excitement to lead Ax-2 crew's first space mission. As a veteran on the International Space Station, this marks her fourth trip. With a commendable team, Whitson is eager to conduct significant scientific research and inspire future generations about the advantages of microgravity. Their mission is set to leave a lasting impact on space exploration.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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