Mon 22 May 2023 9:21 am - Jerusalem Time
Historic mission.. The launch of the first two Saudi astronauts into space
On Sunday, a rocket launched on a special mission organized by the American company "Axiom Space" to the International Space Station, with a crew that includes the first two Saudis, one of whom is a woman.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni, launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.
The crew also includes Peggy Whitson, a former astronaut at the US Space Agency (NASA), who has gone to the International Station three times before and will lead the mission, and American businessman John Shoffner, who will lead the vehicle.
This crew will spend ten days aboard the International Space Station, which is expected to arrive on Monday around 13:30 GMT.
"It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be the first Saudi female astronaut and to represent the region," Bernawi, who studied science, said in a press conference this week.
She confirmed that she is excited to talk to children from the International Space Station. "Seeing their faces when they see astronauts from their region for the first time is very interesting," she said.
In his normal life, Al-Qarni works as a military pilot. "I had a passion for exploring the unknown and contemplating the sky and the stars," he said, considering that "this is a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue this passion and fly among the stars this time."
Saudi Arabia sent one of its citizens into space in the past, while Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman participated in an American mission in 1985.
But this new space flight is part of the kingdom's conservative strategy to improve the country's image.
The kingdom established the Saudi Space Authority in 2018 and last year launched a program to send astronauts into space.
The four crew members are supposed to conduct about twenty experiments during their stay, one of which is to study the behavior of stem cells in weightlessness.
They will join the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station, three Russians, three Americans, and Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who last month became the first Arab citizen to walk in space.
This mission, called "AX-2", is the second to emerge from a partnership between the US space agency and "Axiom Space", which offers similar space flights for millions of dollars.
The company provides training for novice astronauts, renting transportation and facilitating their stay in space.
A first mission called "AX-1" (Ax-1) transported in April 2022 three businessmen and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria to spend two weeks on the International Space Station.
Some of the astronauts on the International Space Station indicated that they had to dedicate some of their precious time to caring for these tourists.
For Axiom Space, these missions are a first step towards its ambitious goal of building its own space station, which is supposed to launch its prototype at the end of 2025.
Its structure will be connected to the International Space Station, before it is separated from it and becomes independent.
NASA plans to stop working at the International Space Station by 2030, and send its astronauts to private stations.
Russia finally pledged to extend the period of work on the International Space Station until 2028, after it threatened to withdraw from it after the start of the war in Ukraine, which raised questions about the continuation of the station.
Like the United States, the station's other international partners, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency, are committed to continuing operations on the International Space Station through 2030.