Meet the private Ax-2 crew set to launch from Kennedy Space Center

Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi to travel to space station

Axiom Space's Ax-2 Crew - (from left to right) Commander Peggy Whitson, Pilot John Shoffner, Mission Specialist Ali AlQarni and Mission Specialist Rayyanah Barnawi. (Axiom Space)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.Axiom-2 is set to light up the sky over the Space Coast Sunday afternoon as a second group of private astronauts kick off a science mission to the International Space Station, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Axiom-2′s four astronauts is set for 5:37 p.m. EDT Sunday, May 21, from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A.

But who are the private Axiom astronauts who will be onboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule? Here’s what we know:

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Peggy Whitson

Mission commander Peggy Whitson is no stranger to space travel.

  • Whitson holds the record among American astronauts and among women for spending the most time in space, over 665 days (and counting)
  • First female commander of the International Space Station and the only woman to serve as ISS commander twice
  • On Ax-2, Whitson will become the first woman to command a private space mission
  • First woman and first non-military chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office
  • First ISS science officer
  • Holds the records for the most spacewalks by a woman (10)
  • TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World (2018)

John Shoffner

STEM advocate, business pioneer, and lifelong space enthusiast John Shoffner will serve as pilot for the Ax-2 mission.

  • Cycled across the U.S. in 18 days without support
  • Accumulated 8,500 flight hours
  • Completed 3,000 sky dives and base jumps
  • Placed second in 2019 Nürburgring Endurance Series Carrera Cup Class Championship
  • Formed a young astronauts club as a child

Ali AlQarni

Representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ali AlQarni (pronounced Ali Al-car-knee) will serve as a mission specialist on the Ax-2 mission.

  • 12 years of flying experience with 2,387 flight hours
  • A fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force, he’s primarily piloted an F-15SA
  • Inaugural member of the Saudi National Astronaut Program
  • Only the second Saudi male astronaut and one of the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS
  • Bachelor’s degree in aerospace science from King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Athletic enthusiast
  • Free time: Making coffee, grilling steaks and restoring antique cars

Rayyanah Barnawi

Also representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Rayyanah Barnawi (pronounced Ray-AH-nah Bar-now-wee) will serve as a mission specialist on the Ax-2 mission.

  • Biomedical researcher with almost a decade of experience in cancer stem-cell research
  • Making history as the first Saudi female astronaut to go to space and one of the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS
  • Master of biomedical sciences from Alfaisal University in Saudi Arabia
  • Bachelor of biomedical sciences from Otago University in New Zealand
  • More than nine years as a research lab technician for the Stem Cell and Tissue Re-engineering Program at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Outdoor and sports enthusiast participating in adventures around the world

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