Ax-2 mission crew ready for weekend launch from Florida coast

Crews targeting no earlier than May 21 at 5:37 p.m.

At a news briefing on Saturday, Benji Reed, the senior director of Human Spaceflight Programs at SpaceX, said there were “no significant issues (but) one item of interest.”

ORLANDO, Fla. – The four crew members for Axiom Mission 2 are excited for this week’s planned launch.

Crews are targeting no earlier than Sunday, May 21 at 5:37 p.m. for a launch from Kennedy Space Center. Forecasters said there was a 60% chance of favorable weather for the launch. Axiom will use a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule to get to the International Space Station.

At a news briefing on Saturday, Benji Reed, the senior director of Human Spaceflight Programs at SpaceX, said there were “no significant issues (but) one item of interest.”

“As part of our process at SpaceX, we do this sort of due diligence where we go back and double check everything,” Reed said. “We discovered that one panel that has nine fasteners on it, that... the thermal protection material that’s filled into those fasteners, on nine of them it was just a little bit too little of a thermal protection that goes over the fasteners.”

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The insignificant issue, which concerns the bolts holding together a panel near the capsule on top, is not enough to prevent the crew from having a safe flight to the space station, but SpaceX is filling the fasteners to ensure they are fully and properly covered out of an abundance of caution.

“Some people may have noticed there’s a large crane on the launch site and we have somebody who’s going to be lifted up and applying the material to fill in the fastener gaps, the little holes there, and we’ll get the vehicle exactly to the state that it’s supposed to be in and ready for launch,” Reed said.

Reed went on to say this will “have no impact on the launch.”

The launch was originally scheduled for May 8, but Axiom Space announced it would be delayed as crews continue to prepare for the mission to the space station.

This team consists of former NASA astronaut Commander Peggy Whitson, pilot John Shoffner, and Mission Specialists Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“I’m sure that we’re going to enjoy this mission,” Barnawi said during a press conference Tuesday. “We’re almost five days away so our excitement is above the limits.”

Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, will be the first Saudi woman to fly in space.

Barnawi and AlQarni will also become the first from their country to visit the space station.

“I’m really looking forward to all the experiments we’re going to be conducting onboard the International Space Station, also, all the outreach events,” AlQarni said.

The crew is currently in quarantine ahead of Sunday’s launch.

Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini said the mission takes lessons learned from the first Axiom flight, and the four-person crew will spend its time working on over 20 applied research experiments — everything from tumor organoids to help predict and prevent cancers, to cloud seeding, all the way to demonstrations that will help Axiom as it works toward its ultimate goal: building a new commercial space station for when the space station retires.

“And that will expand our capability to have more and more people available, different science and payloads coming from all over the world,” Whitson said.

Ax-2 follows Axiom’s first private flight last year when Michael Lopez-Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe worked alongside the other astronauts living in low-Earth orbit for more than two weeks.

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About the Authors:

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.