In a historic moment for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a team of Saudi astronauts, including the nation’s first woman astronaut, successfully embarked on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX spacecraft.
The groundbreaking mission marks a significant milestone in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning space program as the astronauts rocketed toward the ISS on a chartered multimillion-dollar flight Sunday.
The Axiom Mission 2(Ax-2) crew took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 5:37 pm.
The crew, consisting of highly skilled astronauts – Saudi’s Rayyanah Barnawi, Ali Al-Qarni, and two other crew members: former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and American entrepreneur John Shoffner – blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The astronauts will spend a week aboard the ISS, conducting scientific experiments. One of them involves studying the behavior of stem cells in zero gravity.
They will join seven others already aboard the ISS: three Russians, three Americans and Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, who was the first Arab national to go on a spacewalk in April.
It’s the second private flight to the space station organized by Houston-based Axiom Space.
The first was last year by three businessmen, with another retired NASA astronaut.
Saudi Arabia established the Saudi Space Commission in 2018 and launched a program last year to send astronauts into space.
The participation of Saudi astronauts in international missions like this one serves to raise the country’s profile in the global scientific community and enhance collaboration with leading space agencies and organizations.
Saudi Arabia’s space program is part of its broader “Vision 2030” initiative, a comprehensive plan to diversify its economy and reduce dependence on oil. By venturing into space, the nation aims to cultivate a knowledge-based economy and stimulate innovation across various sectors.