Axiom Space Launches Second All-Private Astronaut Mission to ISS with Diverse International Crew

On May 21, 2023, Axiom Space successfully launched its second-ever all-private astronaut mission, Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), to the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The international crew of Ax-2, comprising Commander Peggy Whitson, Pilot John Shoffner, and Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, flew onboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft docked with the ISS on May 22, and the crew will conduct over 20 scientific experiments, outreach, and commercial activities before returning to Earth on May 30.

Ax-2 is the follow-up to Axiom Space’s first private space flight, which successfully carried a crew of civilian astronauts to the ISS last year. In addition to Whitson, the crew of Ax-2 is made up of entrepreneur John Shoffner and Saudi astronauts Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.[0] After the Ax-2 team arrives at the ISS, they will spend the next eight days assisting the space station's crew with a handful of experiments. Later this year, Axiom Space intends to conduct another mission to the ISS.

Whitson, who has spent 665 days in space, more than any other American astronaut, is the director of human spaceflight for Axiom and is returning to the ISS as the first female commander of a private space mission.[1] Alqarni and Barnawi are the first Saudi Arabians to fly to the ISS, and Barnawi is the first Arab woman to reach the complex.[2] Shoffner, a lifelong outer space enthusiast and STEM education advocate, is the only non-government crewmember on Ax-2 to pay for his seat on the mission.[3]

The Ax-2 crewmembers will be conducting independent research investigations while living and working alongside the seven astronauts currently inhabiting the ISS during their eight-day stay on the space station. The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) is conducting an Ax-2 experiment which requires participants to undergo a range of tests and measurements on their bodies.[4] The crew will also perform a host of other experiments during their time aboard the space station, including research for over 20 different projects and investigations, such as examining the effects of microgravity on the production of stem cells.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying the Ax-2 crew. The spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage 12 minutes after liftoff, and the spacecraft docked with the ISS on May 22. Assuming favorable weather conditions, the Axiom Space crew will depart from the space station on May 30 and make their way back to Earth, where they will land off the coast of Florida.[5]

The launch date for the Ax-2 mission was delayed from earlier this month in a ripple effect from schedule slips on a previous SpaceX mission.[6] SpaceX’s next unpiloted cargo mission to the space station is scheduled for launch from the same pad on June 3, and that spacecraft will link up with the complex at the same docking port to be used by the Ax-2 mission.[6]

Cedars-Sinai investigators, in collaboration with Axiom Space, are planning on sending stem cells into space to explore whether microgravity can make it easier and more efficient to produce large batches of stem cells. If we explore the possibility, we could utilize this technology to generate stem cells in space and benefit from the microgravity to separate them. And then use stem cells in cell therapy here on earth,” said Dr. Ryan Reeves of the ISS National Lab.[7]

0. “Watch Axiom Space’s second private flight to the ISS with us at 5PM ET” Engadget, 21 May. 2023,

1. “Whitson, Axiom 2 crew go for launch | News |” KMAland, 20 May. 2023,

2. “WATCH Axiom Mission 2: 4 astronauts sucessfully head to space” WFTV Orlando, 19 May. 2023,

3. “The Private Axiom-2 Mission is Almost Ready to Fly to the International Space Station” Universe Today, 21 May. 2023,

4. “SpaceX launches Ax-2 private astronaut mission to station, 1st Saudi woman in space on board (video)”, 21 May. 2023,

5. “Axiom Mission 2: SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Four Private Astronauts Toward Space Station” SciTechDaily, 22 May. 2023,

6. “Axiom's second crew mission has narrow window for launch – Spaceflight Now” Spaceflight Now, 21 May. 2023,

7. “SpaceX to launch former astronaut, three paying customers to orbit” CNN International, 21 May. 2023,

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