Two Saudi astronauts on their way to the International Space Station

A private mission organized by the American company Axiom Space, on Sunday, May 21, will reach the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off on the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) rocket shortly before 5:40 pm (2140 GMT). SpaceX Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Ill Florida.

The first two astronauts are on board Saudi To get to this flying laboratory, 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.

Four astronauts are using the SpaceX Dragon capsule to reach the International Space Station, where they will arrive at 1:24pm GMT on Monday and stay for ten days.

“Thanks for trusting the Falcon 9 team. I hope you enjoyed your trip to space. Have a good trip on the Dragon. Welcome home Zero G, Peggy,” the engineer said. SpaceX President Bill Kerstenmeier briefs the three astronauts live. – Streamed radio communication.

One of the rocket’s boosters returned to Earth and landed in a designated area, “for first human spaceflight,” SpaceX tweeted.

A communication strategy for Riyadh

“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, told a press conference days before takeoff.

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 citizens into space. In 1985, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Salman participated in the US mission.

But this 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.

Second compound for Axiom

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 training astronauts undergoing career training, 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.

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.

With AFP

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