SpaceX has launched the first female Saudi Arabian astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi into space on a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the kingdom to go to space, and along with fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni, she will be the first Saudi Arabian to visit the ISS.
Blasting off from Kennedy Space Center, the crew included a US businessman and a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that arranged the trip.
Saudi Arabia made history – its first female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, and her colleague Ali Al-Qarni have reached at International Space Station pic.twitter.com/6to5BuL5N1
— Shiraz Hassan (@ShirazHassan) May 22, 2023
The multi-million dollar flight is the second private flight to the space station organized by the company Axiom Space. Last year, they sent three businessmen there, with another retired NASA astronaut.
Eventually, the company plans to add its own rooms to the ISS, before forming a stand-alone outpost for hire.
NASA’s latest price list shows per-person, per-day charges of $2,000 for food and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear.
Who really is the first Arab woman in space? Egypt’s Sara Sabry who took a ride on Blue Origin’s suborbital rocket or Saudi Arabia’s Rayyanah Barnawi, who is heading to the ISS? pic.twitter.com/fvvmEDqhXl
— Sarwat Nasir (@SarwatNasir) May 20, 2023
Milestone mission for Saudi Arabia
Barnawi and al-Qarni, whose tickets were sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government, are the first Saudis to travel in a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985.
Involving a Saudi woman in a space mission is the latest move by the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, where women only gained the right to drive a few years ago, to revamp its ultraconservative image.
The kingdom established the Saudi Space Commission in 2018 and launched a program last year to send astronauts into space.
Al-Qarni added: “As I look outside into space, I can’t help but think this is just the beginning of a great journey for all of us”.
The guests will have access to most of the station as they conduct experiments, photograph Earth, and chat with school children back home, demonstrating how kites fly in space when attached to a fan.
SpaceX’s first-stage booster landed back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff – a special treat for the launch day crowd, which included about 60 Saudis. “It was a very, very exciting day,” said Axiom’s Matt Ondler.
#Breaking: Axiom 2 crew members have entered the International Space Station, including Saudi Arabia’s Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni. pic.twitter.com/VY6Y7GNUva
— Sarwat Nasir (@SarwatNasir) May 22, 2023