Saudi Arabia to make history as its astronauts set to fly into space shortly
A private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) organized by Axiom Space is due to blast off from Florida on Sunday, carrying the first two Saudi astronauts to go to the orbiting laboratory.
Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, will become the first Saudi woman to voyage into space and will be joined on the mission by fellow Saudi Ali Al-Qarni, a fighter pilot. The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew will take off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in the southern state of Florida at 5:37 pm (21:37 GMT).
The team also includes Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who will be making her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee who will serve as pilot.
The US space agency NASA, SpaceX, Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission confirmed, during a press conference in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday that preparations for the AX-2 space mission have been completed as scheduled. The press conference was attended by Eng. Mishaal Ashemimry, special advisor to CEO of the Saudi Space Commission; Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer for the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron; Joel Montalbano, director of the American program for the International Space Station; Derek Hasman, director of operations at Axiom Space; and Benji Reed, director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX.
Speakers at the press conference stressed the full readiness of the space mission crew, and that the flight will be launched on schedule from Cape Canaveral, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ashemimry expressed her confidence in the successful execution of the scientific mission by the two astronauts Barnawi and Al Qarni on ISS, saying that it is a historic moment for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and for the entire Arab region, as it represents a source of inspiration for the Saudi and Arab youth.
She praised the cooperation with the US space agency NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX, which resulted in achieving great progress in the Kingdom’s plans to explore space and work on scientific research in microgravity to serve science and humanity.
Replying to a question, she said that Saudi citizens throughout the Kingdom are excited about this scientific mission of the their astronauts. “Saudi exhibitions will be launched on space in conjunction with the launch of the space mission of the Saudi astronauts in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran,” she added.
On their part, Joel Montalbano and Derek Hasman confirmed that the competent authorities in the space flight confirmed the implementation of the flight launch process, and the arrival at the ISS on time. For his part, Mike McAleenan indicated that the weather is suitable for launching the space flight on time, and that follow-up to the weather continues until the launch time. The astronauts are due to spend around 10 days on board the ISS, where they should arrive around 1:30 pm on Monday.
Saudi Arabia established the Saudi Space Commission in 2018 and launched a program last year to send astronauts into space. The four-member team is set to carry out some 20 experiments while on the ISS. One of them involves studying the behaviour of stem cells in zero gravity. They will join seven others already on board the ISS: three Russians, three Americans and UAE astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi, who was the first Arab national to go on a spacewalk last month.
The mission to the ISS will be the second in partnership with ISS-key holder NASA by Axiom Space, a private space company, which offers the rare voyages for sums that run into the millions of dollars. It is noteworthy that the voyage of the Saudi astronauts comes within the framework of the Kingdom’s program for astronauts, which aims to qualify experienced Saudi cadres for space flights, and to participate in conducting scientific experiments, international research and future missions related to the space sector.