SpaceX’s Axiom-2 Mission to the ISS: Stem Cell Research in Microgravity and Saudi Arabian Astronaut Milestones

SpaceX is gearing up for its second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Axiom-2, which has been given the green light by NASA and is scheduled for launch on May 21 at 5:37 pm EDT. The mission is sponsored by Axiom Space and will be led by Peggy Whitson, Axiom's director of human spaceflight and a former NASA astronaut.[0] Whitson, who holds the American astronaut record for spending the most time in space, will be commanding a crew of four, including former aviator and entrepreneur John Shoffner as pilot, and Saudi Arabian mission specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.[1]

This will be the second all-private flight to the ISS by SpaceX for Axiom Space and will launch from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Another milestone in the budding private spaceflight industry will be reached when the crew returns home a week later.[2] While private astronaut missions build experience for their teams working with NASA and SpaceX, they are also leading to the building blocks of what will eventually be the first commercial space station.[3]

The Ax-2 mission is conducting research to explore whether microgravity can make it easier and more efficient to produce large batches of stem cells. The astronauts will grow the stem cells on the ISS to see whether microgravity has any impact on the way the cells divide, as well as their ability to take up DNA. The research team will analyze blood samples taken from the astronauts before, during, and after spaceflight to understand how microgravity affects stem cell aging and cancer transformation.[4]

Axiom Space is also partnering with Cedars-Sinai to send cells from the Allen Institute for Cell Science to the ISS.[5] Using the cell line from the Allen Cell Collection that was gene-edited to illuminate specific cell structures, researchers from Cedars-Sinai will explore whether microgravity can be used to improve stem cell proliferation. Previous research has demonstrated that microgravity accelerates the growth of stem cells, and the recent mission's discoveries could facilitate more productive stem cell cultivation for both scientific exploration and eventual medical use.

The mission is significant for Saudi Arabia as it will be the first time its astronauts visit the ISS. Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, will be the first Saudi woman to fly in space, while Alqarni and Barnawi will be the first Saudis ever to visit the ISS.[6]

As private space missions continue to build momentum, Axiom Space is also working towards launching its own commercial space station in late 2025. These missions are not only paving the way for future space stations but also advancing crucial research in fields such as stem cell production and cancer research.

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

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

2. “Second Private Mission to Space Station Set to Launch May 21” ExtremeTech, 19 May. 2023,

3. “NASA readies for its second all-private mission to ISS” msnNOW, 13 May. 2023,

4. “Astronauts' Blood Samples to Shed Light on Stem Cells and Cancer on Second All-Private Crew Mission” ISS National Lab, 11 May. 2023,

5. “From Seattle to Space: Science that Began at the Allen Institute Blasts off to International Space Station” InvestorsObserver, 18 May. 2023,

6. “LISTEN LIVE: Space officials to hold news briefing ahead of Ax-2 weekend launch” WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando, 16 May. 2023,

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