Saudi astronauts embark on landmark space mission
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Saudi astronauts embark on landmark space mission: Watch liftoff

Saudi astronauts embark on landmark space mission: Watch liftoff

Saudi Arabia’s historic mission signifies the nation’s commitment to advancing space exploration under the ambit of the Vision 2030 national agenda

Marisha Singh
Saudi astronauts head to International Space Station. Image Credit: UAE Space Station

As part of Saudi Arabia’s space exploration programme, two Saudi astronauts made history as they embarked on a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in the early hours of May 22. Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher and the first female Arab astronaut, along with Saudi fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni, are headed to the ISS for a 10-day mission.

Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni had a successful liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, on Sunday, as per an update on ISS’ Twitter handle.

The duo are aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, reported Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The Crew Dragon capsule carrying the Ax-2 crew to and from the ISS is C212, which has previously been used in a mission in 2022.

Joining them are Peggy Whitson, a NASA astronaut embarking on her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a Tennessee-based businessman who will serve as the pilot. Their mission is organized by Axiom Space, a private space company.

Upon reaching the ISS on Monday, May 22 they will join UAE astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi, who is currently on the space station on a six-month mission. The live stream of the liftoff was shared by the ISS.

Saudi astronauts make history

Rayyanah Barnawi’s career has been dedicated to breast cancer research. Barnawi expressed her excitement about being the first Saudi woman astronaut, emphasizing the honor and pleasure of representing the region in this groundbreaking mission.

Ali al-Qarni shared his passion for space exploration, seeing this mission as a golden opportunity to pursue his long-held dreams and soar among the stars, said the SPA release.

The Saudi duo will undertake a diverse range of 14 experiments during their time aboard the ISS. These experiments will primarily focus on human research, cell sciences, and cloud seeding experiments in the microgravity environment. The astronauts will also conduct three educational awareness experiments with 12,000 Saudi students via live feed.

The duo’s maiden mission to the International Space Station marks a leap forward for Saudi Arabia in its space exploration endeavours. The mission is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a national agenda that hopes to diversify the country’s economic infrastructure and reduce the country’s dependence on oil. The mission will also place Saudi Arabia among a select group of nations to have two astronauts simultaneously on board the International Space Station.

The Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, took to Twitter, to wish the Arab astronauts luck as they launch to the ISS.

The UAE’s space agency also tweeted, “Sending our warmest wishes to the AX-2 crew, which includes Saudi astronauts Rayanah Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni, on their historic journey to the International Space Station. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making history with the #KSA2Space mission.”

If the mission is successful, the Saudi astronauts are expected to reach the International Space Station on Monday.

Read: Saudi to send its first female astronaut to space this year

Image Credit: UAE Space Station

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