A little while ago, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft docked with the International Space Station’s Harmony module performing the first part of its private mission Axiom Mission 2 or simply Ax-2. It blasted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center when it was afternoon in the USA. After verifying that the pressure is properly balanced, the hatch will be opened to allow crew members to enter the Station.
A little bit more than one year after the Ax-1 mission, a new collaboration between public entities, which this time besides NASA includes the Saudi Space Commission, and private ones, sent new astronauts to the International Space Station to conduct a series of scientific experiments on behalf of entities that generally can’t carry out studies in microgravity conditions.
The four crew members of the Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft are:
Peggy Annette Whitson. Born on February 9, 1960, in Mount Ayr, Iowa, in the USA, she earned a degree in biology and chemistry at Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 and earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985. After working at Rice for a while, she started working at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and in the ’90s conducted research and was a professor at some universities. In 1992 she entered the scientific staff of the Shuttle-Mir program and in 1996 was selected as an astronaut candidate. In June 2003, she commanded the submarine expedition NEEMO 5 in the Aquarius lab, which lasted 14 days. She’s a space missions veteran and of the International Space Station having already been part of the crew of Expedition 5 between June and December 2002, of the Expedition 16 between October 2007 and April 2008, and of the Expedition 50/51/52 between November 2016 and September 2017. She carried out 10 spacewalks and was already the oldest woman to travel in space and the one who spent the longest time in space.
John Shoffner. Born on July 27, 1955, in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, he’s an entrepreneur who worked for years on the development of fiber optic networks. He’s also known as a racer and exhibition aircraft pilot. In the Ax-2 mission, he’s the pilot of the Crew Dragon Freedom in case of need. On the International Space Station, he will help conduct scientific experiments.
Ali AlQarni. Born in 1992, he earned a bachelor’s degree in astronautical sciences at the King Faisal Aeronautical Academy. He’s a captain in the Saudi Air Force.
Rayyanah Barnawi. Born in 1990, she earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and a master’s degree from Alfaisal University, Saudi Arabia. She has several years of experience as a researcher in the field of cancer research.
The launch of the Ax-2 mission represented for SpaceX the debut of a new reentry procedure for the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage. The use of a new first stage is enough to make the news for a company that now employs almost only a few flight-proven first stages in a rotation. In this launch, for the first time ever, a first stage used in a crewed mission landed on the Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) instead of on a drone ship. This happened after a careful analysis of many missions that made it possible to ascertain that the performance of the Falcon 9 is by far good enough to guarantee a safe return to the mainland, where there’s no risk of adverse conditions such as rough seas.
The Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft is scheduled to leave the International Space Station on May 30 to return to Earth. In the bottom image, Peggy Whitson is holding GiGi, a teddy bear used to indicate to the crew when the Freedom has reached the state of microgravity also created to inspire children to get close to space travel and a possible career in technology and science fields.