The four crew members of the second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) are eager to leave their home planet behind, at least for a while.
That mission, known as hatchet-2is scheduled to launch to the ISS atop a spacex Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday afternoon (May 21), and the four astronauts who will fly it are counting down the days.
“To say I’m excited to be here would be a gross understatement,” Ax-2 pilot John Shoffner said during a press conference on Tuesday (May 16).
“I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” Shoffner added. “I have been a fan of space since I was a child, I grew up in the era of the first space race — so to come here now and have the opportunity to fulfill that emotion is very, very powerful for me.”
Related: SpaceX will launch the first Saudi woman into space on a private Ax-2 mission
Shoffner is a paying customer on Ax-2, which will be the second flight to the orbiting laboratory organized by the Houston-based company. axiom space. The first, the pioneer Axe-1launched and landed in April 2022.
Ax-2 will be commanded by peggy whitson, a record-breaking former NASA astronaut who now flies for Axiom Space. The other two crewmates are Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, mission specialists who are members of Saudi Arabia’s first class of astronauts.
Alqarni and Barnawi will become the first Saudis to visit the ISS, and Barnawi will be the first woman of the kingdom to reach space. (The first, and so far only, Saudi to reach the final frontier was Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew the STS-51-G mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985.)
“We feel really honored and privileged to have you guys and to be a part of this incredible mission,” Alqarni said during Tuesday’s press conference.
He and Barnawi, Alqarni added, “are really excited and excited about our mission and to represent Saudi Arabia on this trip.”
If all goes to plan, that trip will take the Ax-2 quartet to the ISS in a SpaceX. Continue capsule. The Dragon will dock Monday morning (May 22) and spend eight days connected to the orbiting laboratory before returning home for an ocean splashdown.
The four members of the Ax-2 crew will spend their time in orbit conducting more than 20 different science experiments, including one that growing stem cells in microgravity.
They will also undertake a variety of educational and outreach work, especially activities designed to spark a love of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in students around the world.
“We are very excited for the part that will involve children from all over Saudi Arabia and around the world, talking about our experiments, talking about space and getting them curious about space,” Barnawi said.
“I’m sure we’re going to enjoy this mission,” she added. “We’re almost five days away, so our excitement is over the top!”