Meet the 4 astronauts of SpaceX's Ax-2 mission for Axiom Space

four headshots side by side of ax-2 crew members
Members of Axiom SpaceX's Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station, from left to right: Commander Peggy Whitson, Pilot John Shoffner, and Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

Axiom Space, a commercial space company based in Houston, Texas, is sending four more people to the International Space Station, including a retired NASA astronaut.

Axiom Space's second crewed mission to space, called Ax-2, will launch from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where SpaceX launches its astronaut missions for NASA. The four crew members will ascend to the International Space Station (ISS) in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets. Launch is currently scheduled for Sunday (May 21) at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT) and you can watch live here at, via NASA and SpaceX.

Axiom's first crewed mission to space, called Ax-1, launched on April 8, 2022 and lasted more than 15 days in space. Ax-2 has a shorter duration; the four crewmembers will spend eight days aboard the orbital laboratory.

Here you can meet the four people who will make up the crew of Axiom Space's Ax-2 mission.

Live updates: Axiom Space Ax-2 private spaceflight with SpaceX: Live updates
The first space tourists

Peggy Whitson, commander

Peggy Whitson, Ax-2 commander. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

Peggy Whitson, serving as commander of Ax-2, has spent 665 days in space, more than any other American astronaut or woman astronaut. She flew three missions to the International Space Station (Expeditions 5, 16, 50/51/52), setting two records for women in space along the way: Conducting 10 spacewalks; and commanding the orbiting complex twice.

Whitson also held numerous senior positions at NASA, including chair of NASA's astronaut selection board, chief of NASA's operations branch and deputy division chief for both medical science, according to her biography. She also served as co-chair of the U.S.-Russian mission science working group.

Whitson holds a Ph.D. and has degrees in biology, chemistry and biochemistry. Born on a farm in Iowa, she decided to be an astronaut in 1969 after watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on television. On Ax-2, she will rack up another milestone as the first woman to command a private space mission.

John Shoffner, pilot

John Shoffner, Ax-2 pilot. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

John Shoffner, Ax-2 pilot, is an aviator with more than 8,500 flight hours in various commercial aircraft and helicopters.

Shoffner was founder of Dura-Line Corporation, which laid fiber optic cable during the 1980s during the early days of internet networks. He left in 1997 for other interests, and founded J2-Racing (an endurance motorsports racing team) in 2012 alongside his wife and fellow skydiver, Janine. 

His athletic pursuits include "cycling, white water kayaking, waterskiing, hang gliding, skydiving, base jumping, and motorsports", his official biography states. He first got interested in space at age 8, creating a young astronauts' club in Middlesboro, Kentucky during the Gemini and Apollo eras. He will communicate with amateur radio enthusiasts with ham radio, which he started doing in his teenage years.

Ali Alqarni, mission specialist

Ali Alqarni, Ax-2 mission specialist. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

Ali Alqarni, Ax-2 mission specialist, is a Saudi Arabian astronaut. He is a fighter pilot with nearly 2,400 flight hours of experience on types including the Cessna 172, T-6, T-38, F-15S and the Royal Saudi Air Force's F-15SA, his biography states

Alquarni first got interested in space during a visit to NASA's Johnson Space Center, while training with the U.S. Air Force. His mission will be the second overall for Saudi Arabia, and the first from his country to visit the ISS. He has a bachelor's degree in aerospace science and enjoys bungee jumping, mountain hiking, restoring antique cars, and family time.

Rayyanah Barnawi, Ax-2 mission specialist

Rayyanah Barnawi, Ax-2 mission specialist and the first Saudi woman in space. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

Rayyanah Barnawi, Ax-2 mission specialist, is the first woman astronaut from Saudi Arabia. 

Barnawi has several degrees in biomedical sciences, according to her biography. She has worked for nearly a decade as a research lab technician in stem cells and tissue re-engineering at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. Her work on Ax-2 will focus on stem cell and breast cancer research. Her hobbies include scuba diving, hang gliding, ledge swinging, river rafting and hiking, and she also has done wingsuit flying training.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: