Monday, as part of a private mission chartered by Axiom Space, a SpaceX capsule transporting two Saudi astronauts docked with the International Space Station.
Rayyanah Barnawi, a scientist and the first Saudi woman to travel to space. And Ali Al-Qarni, a trained combat pilot, are the first two Saudis to visit the orbital outpost.
Mission commander Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who had previously made the trip three times, stated, “I’ve never experienced a more gentle docking.” The fourth member of the crew is the American entrepreneur John Shoffner.
Two hours after docking, the capsule opened to enable the four to enter the ISS. Where they joined the seven astronauts (three Russians, three Americans, and an Emirati) who were already on board.
The SpaceX rocket launched from Florida on Sunday, and the 16-hour journey to the International Space Station. Which flies approximately 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth, lasted approximately 16 hours.
This mission, designated Ax-2, is the second privately-funded mission to visit the International Space Station, the first having occurred in April 2022. The members of Ax-2 will remain for approximately ten days and conduct approximately twenty experiments.
This is not Saudi Arabia’s maiden voyage into space. Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an air force aviator, participated in a US-sponsored space mission in 1985.
“I reflect on my time in space many years ago, and I am pleased that Saudi Arabia has returned to space,” he said at a Riyadh launch celebration for the Ax-2. “God willing, this is just the beginning.”