ready for liftoff

Houston space company announces historic flight crew

Axiom Space has announced its crew for its second commercial space launch. Image via Axiom

A Houston-based company is making history with its next commercial flight mission.

Axiom Space announced that Axiom Mission 2, or Ax-2, the second all-private mission to the International Space Station, will have members of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's national astronaut program aboard. It will also be the first private mission commanded by a woman: Peggy Whitson, Axiom's director of human spaceflight and former NASA astronaut.

“Axiom Space’s second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station cements our mission of expanding access to space worldwide and supporting the growth of the low-Earth orbit economy as we build Axiom Station,” says Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, in a news release. “Ax-2 moves Axiom Space one step closer toward the realization of a commercial space station in low-Earth orbit and enables us to build on the legacy and achievements of the ISS, leveraging the benefits of microgravity to better life on Earth.”

Expected to launch this spring, it's the second ISS mission for the commercial aerospace company founded in 2016. Ax-2 Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi will be the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS after Axiom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reached an agreement in 2022. With this mission, KSA will become only the sixth country to have two astronauts working on the ISS at the same time.

“This flight is an integral milestone of a comprehensive program aiming to train and qualify experienced Saudis to undertake human spaceflight, conduct scientific experiments, participate in international research, and future space-related missions contributing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” reads a statement from the country.

Pilot John Shoffner, a businessman and aviator from Knoxville, Tennessee, with over 8,500 hours of flying under his belt, is the crew's fourth and final member.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Ax-2 crew aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and they will spend 10 days on the mission. The mission is targeted for launch in the spring of 2023, and will be the first private space mission to include both private astronauts and astronauts representing foreign governments.

Whitson, a Rice university alum, will add to her deep resume, which also includes adding even more space time to the standing record for the longest cumulative time of any astronaut in the history of the U.S. space program.

“I am honored and excited to lead the Ax-2 crew and mission,” Whitson says in a statement. “The space station is a vital platform for all types of research. We at Axiom Space are committed to working with NASA to open the door for private citizens to contribute to and advance the groundbreaking research aboard the station, forging the path for us to operate, live and work abroad Axiom Station.”

Axiom aims to build its own commercial space station to launch in late 2025. Axiom’s first mission completed last April, and the company, deemed a unicorn with a $1 billion valuation, has raised $200 million, including a $130 million series B round in 2021.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cemvita has some news regarding its C-level execs. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

An innovative Houston startup that's working with energy companies to decarbonize their operations has made changes to its C-suite.

Tara Karimi, who co-founded Cemvita with her brother Moji, has transition to the company's chief science officer. Liz Dennett has been hired to Karimi's previous role of CTO. The changes enable Karimi to focus on leading Cemvita's scientific research and development efforts as well as participating in driving innovation within the biotech industry as a whole, according to the company's press release.

"I'm excited to take on the role of chief science officer at Cemvita and what it represents for our company's growth," says Karimi in the release. "As chief science officer, I look forward to shaping policy and driving the conversation around the role of biotechnology in the energy transition."

As CTO, Dennett will lead the development of Cemvita's unique biotech products that tap into microbes to decarbonize operations on energy plants. Most recently, Dennett was vice president of data architecture and data engineering at Wood Mackenzie. She previously worked in tech and sustainability-focused roles at Hess Corp., Biota Technology, and Amazon Web Services.

“Working with biological systems presents a unique challenge but also a unique opportunity," says Dennett in the release. "It’s uniquely difficult to go from benchtop to in-situ reactors or oil wells with microbes and to achieve the kind of incredible results that we’re seeing in the lab. You need to build teams with deep specializations in chemistry, biology, energy systems, and geology.”

Dennett, who has her PhD and Master's from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has served on Cemvita's advisory board for about a year, will report to CEO Moji Karimi directly.

“I know that Tara and Liz are going to make history at Cemvita,” says Moji Karimi in the release. “With 15 years of experience using data-driven approaches to solve pressing energy challenges, Liz brings to bear the kind of creativity and expertise that can quickly and meaningfully advance Cemvita’s impact on the Energy Transition.”

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