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SpaceX will fly 2 Saudi astronauts to space station on private Axiom Space mission

A full crew has been assigned for the second all-private expedition to the International Space Station, according to a report.

According to Space News, NASA and the Houston-based corporation Axiom Space have announced that two Saudi astronauts will go on the SpaceX mission (opens in new tab). Four people will go to the International Space Station on Ax-2. The Ax-1 mission, the first-ever private endeavour, was launched and landed in April and is built upon in this mission.

Two Saudi astronauts will fly on the SpaceX mission, NASA and the Houston-based company Axiom Space have revealed, according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab). Ax-2 will carry four passengers to the International Space Station. This project builds on the Ax-1 mission, the first-ever private endeavour, which launched and landed in April.

Peggy Whitson, a retired NASA astronaut, and John Shoffner, a racecar driver and airshow pilot, who paid for his seat as the pilot, were the only two crew members already aboard Ax-2. The mission will launch the developing Saudi astronaut programme and is planned for a spring 2023 arrival at the ISS.

Only six weeks ago, Saudi Arabia declared that it had begun an astronaut programme and intended to send two people, at least one of whom will be a woman, into space. NASA had stated at the time that the future flyers were pending approval; the statement on September 22 did state that Axiom Space would be the pathway to orbit for the nameless space flyers but did not provide a date estimate. Now that the Saudi astronauts are undergoing training with the organization, this approval appears to be confirmed.

These individuals won't be the first Saudis in space; prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew on the STS-51-G mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985, is the only Saudi to have reached orbit. The presence of a woman is noteworthy because Saudi women often have significantly less privileges than Saudi men. For instance, Saudi women were not permitted to operate motor vehicles until 2018.

The NASA-led Artemis Accords, which seek to establish a new framework for international space exploration while beginning lunar manned missions in the 2020s, have Saudi Arabia as a signatory. Axiom also has a tie to the moon because it will construct the spacesuits needed for NASA's crewed Artemis 3 mission, which will be the first to set foot on the moon in 2025 or 2026.

The four astronauts will launch with Ax-2 using a Crew Dragon spacecraft and a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, same like Ax-1. Following certain "lessons learned" from the debut mission, the first commercial astronaut trip to visit the ISS, NASA proposes to adopt some new regulations for upcoming Axiom flights (the agency has already cleared an Ax-3 and Ax-4).

NASA introduced requirements to have all Axiom missions headed by a former agency astronaut after some schedule issues on Axiom's end necessitated the provision of a space station astronaut to complete Ax-1 work. Additionally, NASA will approve scientific investigations early in the mission planning process. Michael López-Alegra, a NASA astronaut who flew on three space shuttle flights and one ISS excursion, headed Ax-1 by happenstance.

Until Northrop Grumman's Cygnus is certified, SpaceX is the only company authorised to transport people to the International Space Station. SpaceX has previously launched five operational NASA astronaut missions to the station. Early in October, Crew-5, the most recent, arrived.

The corporation won $1.4 billion earlier this year to carry out five more human missions to the orbiting lab, bringing its NASA astronaut commitments all the way to Crew-14.

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