ISS is a private mission carrying Saudi astronauts

A private mission organized by US firm Axiom Space to the International Space Station (ISS) took off on Sunday with the first two Saudi astronauts, a man and a woman.

Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Kharni are both panel members. Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who has already been to the ISS three times, is commanding the mission. American businessman John Shofner acts as the pilot.

The mission, named Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shortly before 5:40 p.m. (11:40 p.m. in Switzerland). Four astronauts are using the SpaceX Dragon capsule to reach the International Space Station, where they will arrive at 3:24pm on Monday and stay for ten days. “Thank you for trusting the Falcon 9 team. I hope you enjoyed the spaceflight. Have a good trip on the Dragon. Welcome home Zero G, Becky,” SpaceX Chief Engineer Bill Kerstenmeier told the three astronauts, according to live radio communications.

“A wonderful opportunity”

One of the rocket boosters returned to Earth and landed in a designated area, SpaceX tweeted, “the first time humans have been in space.” “It is a great pleasure and honor to be Saudi’s first female astronaut and to represent the region,” Rayana Barnawi, a scientist by training, said during a press conference days before the launch. He said he was excited to talk to the children from the ISS: “It’s exciting to see their faces when they see the astronauts from their own space for the first time,” he said.

In everyday life, Ali al-Qarni is a fighter pilot. “I’ve always been interested in exploring the unknown and admiring the sky and the stars,” he explained. “So this is a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue that passion, and this time to fly among the stars.”

The oil-rich state has already sent one of its nationals into space in the past. In 1985, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Salman participated in the US mission. But the new space flight is part of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s strategy to improve the image of the country, where women were not allowed to drive until just a few years ago.

Saudi Arabia created the Saudi Space Agency in 2018 and launched a program to send astronauts into space last year.

Scientific experiences

Four team members are required to carry out twenty experiments during their stay. One of them is studying the behavior of stem cells in weightlessness. They will join seven passengers already on the ISS: three Russians, three Americans and Emirati astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi, who last month became the first national of an Arab country to go into space.

The mission, named Ax-2, is the second in a partnership between the US space agency (which will open the doors to the ISS) and Axiom Space, which provides these unusual accommodations for sums calculated in the millions of dollars. The agency is responsible for providing training for career-trained astronauts, chartering transportation facilities, and managing their stay.

The first mission, Ax-1, will carry three businessmen and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria to spend two weeks aboard the International Space Station in April 2022.

Some astronauts aboard the ISS said they had to take their time — precious in weightlessness — to care for these space tourists. “My time is less than Mike Lopez-Alegria’s on the first trip,” Commander Becky Whitson promised. “So I’m ready to help more crews.”

Planning construction of a private space station

For Axiom Space, these missions are the first step towards an ambitious goal: the construction of its own space station, the first module of which should be launched by the end of 2025. The system will first dock with the ISS before leaving separately. To fly freely.

NASA plans to retire the ISS by 2030, instead sending its astronauts to private stations — which will also host their own clients. The US space agency thus promotes the projects of many companies.

Russia recently promised to extend the ISS’s life until 2028 after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, raising the question of its survival. Other international partners – Japan, Canada, the European Space Agency – have pledged to continue working until 2030, as has the US.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *