Private mission carrying Saudi astronauts launches

Private mission carrying Saudi astronauts launches

Private mission carrying Saudi astronauts launches

The second-ever private mission to the International Space Station (ISS), organized by Axiom Space, blasted off from Florida on May 21, carrying the first two Saudi astronauts to travel to the orbiting laboratory.

Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, is the first Saudi woman to voyage into space and is joined on the mission by fellow Saudi Ali Al-Qarni, a fighter pilot.

The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in the southern US state of Florida at 5:37 pm (2137 GMT).

The team also includes Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who will be making her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee who is serving as pilot.

“Thanks for putting your trust in the Falcon 9 team,” SpaceX chief enginer Bill Gerstenmaier told the crew minutes after lift-off.

“Hope you enjoyed the ride to space. Have a great trip on Dragon,” he added, referring to the spacecraft. “Welcome home to zero-g, Peggy.”

The crew is due to spend around 10 days on board the ISS, where they should arrive around 9:25 a.m. on May 22.

“Being the first Saudi woman astronaut, representing the region, it’s a great pleasure and honor that I’m very happy to carry,” said Barnawi at a recent press conference.

She added that, aside from excitement for the research she will carry out on board, she was looking forward to sharing her experience with kids while on the ISS.

“Being able to see their faces when they see astronauts from their own region for the first time is very thrilling,” she said.

A career fighter pilot, Al-Qarni said he has “always had the passion of exploring the unknown and just admiring the sky and the stars.”

“It is a great opportunity for me to pursue this kind of passion that I have, and now maybe just fly among the stars.”