The private mission Ax-2 of the Falcon 9 rocket took off from Florida to the International Space Station (ISS) this Sunday. The crew is composed, among others, of two Saudi astronauts, a man and a woman.
The Ax-2 mission, organized by the American company Axiom Space, was launched on Sunday May 21 towards the ISS. The liftoff took place shortly before 5:40 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The first two Saudi astronauts to go to the space station are on board. Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni are accompanied by two other crew members. The mission is led by Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who has already made three trips to the ISS. American contractor John Shoffner is the pilot.
The four astronauts are using a SpaceX Dragon capsule to reach the ISS, where they are scheduled to arrive on Monday around 13:24 GMT and stay for ten days.
Two Saudi astronauts on board
Rayana Barnawi, a scientist by training, expressed her joy at being the first Saudi female astronaut and representing the region. “Being the first Saudi female astronaut, and representing the region, is a great pleasure and an honor,” she said Rayana Barnawi, during a press conference a few days before the departure.
— Axiom Space (@Axiom_Space) May 21, 2023
Her partner Ali Al-Qarni is a fighter pilot. “I have always had a passion for exploring the unknown, and admiring the sky and the stars,” he explained. So this is a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue that passion, and this time to fly among the stars.”
Al-Qarni and Barnawi are not the first Saudis to be sent into space. Saudi Arabia previously sent one of its nationals, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salmane, into space in 1985 on a U.S. mission.
A partnership between NASA and Axiom Space
This is the second partnership between NASA and Axiom Space. The four crew members will conduct about 20 experiments during their stay, including the study of stem cell behavior in zero gravity.
They will join the seven passengers already aboard the ISS, including three Russians, three Americans and Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, the first national of an Arab country to perform a spacewalk.