Saudi Astronauts Dock with ISS in Private SpaceX Mission

WASHINGTON: Two Saudi astronauts arrived at the International Space Station, as part of a private mission organized by Axiom Space and facilitated by SpaceX.

Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Saudi woman in space, and Ali Al-Qarni, a trained fighter pilot, made history as the inaugural space travelers from their country.

Mission commander Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut with three previous voyages, described the journey as delightful, stating, ‘It was the softest docking I’ve ever felt.’ American businessman John Shoffner completes the four-person crew.

Approximately two hours after docking, the capsule opened, granting entry to the ISS where they joined seven other astronauts, including three Russians, three Americans, and an Emirati.

The SpaceX rocket departed Florida on Sunday, completing the 16-hour journey to the ISS, which orbits around 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

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This mission, called Ax-2, marks the second fully private visit to the Space Station following the initial mission in April 2022. The Ax-2 team will stay for approximately ten days, conducting around 20 experiments.

Saudi Arabia’s venture into space is not unprecedented. In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an air force pilot, participated in a US-organized space voyage.

Reflecting on his earlier space experience, Prince Sultan expressed his joy for Saudi Arabia’s return to space, saying at an Ax-2 launch watch party in Riyadh, ‘God willing, this is just the beginning.

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