Saudi Arabia's first female astronaut and fighter pilot set to embark on historic space station mission

Saudi Arabia's first female astronaut and fighter pilot set to embark on historic space station mission

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

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Sunday, May 21, 2023, 01:52 PM IST
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Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew | Axiom Space

A milestone private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to launch from Florida on Sunday. Organised by Axiom Space, this historic journey will feature two Saudi astronauts onboard.

Rayyanah Barnawi, a distinguished breast cancer researcher, will make history as the first Saudi woman to embark on a space voyage. Joining her on this mission is Ali Al-Qarni, a skilled fighter pilot from Saudi Arabia. The team is further complemented by Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut, who will be undertaking her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a Tennessee-based businessman, who will serve as the pilot.

The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew will take off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in the southern state of Florida at 5:37 pm (2137 GMT). They are due to spend around 10 days on board the ISS, where they should arrive around 1:30 pm on Monday.

This endeavor represents a remarkable achievement for the Saudi space program, as it continues to expand its presence in the realm of space exploration.

First Saudi Female Astronaut

The inclusion of Rayyanah Barnawi as the first Saudi female astronaut showcases the progress being made towards gender equality and increased representation in the field of space exploration.

"Being the first Saudi woman astronaut, representing the region, it's a great pleasure and honour 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 is 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.

Fellow Saudi Astronaut

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."

Experiments

The four-member team is set to carry out some 20 experiments while on the ISS. One of them involves studying the behaviour of stem cells in zero gravity.

They will join seven others already on board the ISS: three Russians, three Americans and Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who was the first Arab national to go on a spacewalk last month.

The mission to the ISS will be the second in partnership with ISS-key holder NASA by Axiom Space, a private space company, which offers the rare voyages for sums that run into the millions of dollars.

The company oversees training the astronauts, chartering their means of transport and ensuring the smooth management of their stay.

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