Saudi Arabia to soon send first woman astronaut to space
Saudi Arabia is set to send its first-ever woman astronaut to space later this year. Rayyana Barnawi will reportedly join fellow Saudi astronaut, Ali Al-Qarni, on a 10-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Barnawi and Al-Qarni will be part of the private space mission Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) and will be the first Saudi astronauts to visit the orbiting space station.
Why does this story matter?
- The decision to launch the first woman astronaut marks a step forward for the otherwise conservative Saudi Arabia.
- The Ax-2 mission is significant for several reasons. For one, it represents Saudi's return to human spaceflight. Moreover, it will be the first nation that is not part of the official International Space Station partnership to have two astronauts aboard the ISS at the same time.
Meet crew members of Ax-2 mission
Al-Qarni and Barnawi will serve as Ax-2 mission specialists. Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space's Director of Human Spaceflight, will lead the mission. John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, will serve as the pilot. Ax-2 will be the first private space mission to include both private astronauts and astronauts representing foreign governments and the first private mission commanded by a woman.
Falcon 9 rocket will transport crew members
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the four-membered Ax-2 crew to the ISS. The mission is set to take off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the spring of 2023. Once docked at the space station, the astronauts will, over a period of 10 days, carry out mission-related tasks involving science, outreach, and commercial activities.
'An integral milestone': Saudi Press Agency
"This flight is an integral milestone of a comprehensive program aiming to train and qualify experienced Saudis to undertake human spaceflight, conduct scientific experiments, participate in international research, and future space-related missions contributing to the Kingdom's Vision 2030," said the government-run Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi sent citizens to space before
This is not the first time that a Saudi citizen is going to make it into space. In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud became the first Arab, the first Muslim, and the first member of a royal family to go into orbit. Al Saud was part of the seven-day mission, STS-51-G, the 18th flight of NASA's Space Shuttle program.
UAE was first Arab country to send astronauts to space
In 2019, Saudi's neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, became the first Arab country to send one of its citizens into space. Astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori spent eight days on the ISS at that time. Later this month, another UAE astronaut, Sultan al-Neyadi, will also head to the ISS. Neyadi, nicknamed "Sultan of Space," will become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in space.
Ax-2 will be second private mission to ISS
Ax-2 will be the second mission to the ISS organized by Axiom Space, a Houston-based company. Ax-1, which took off in April 2022, was the first private mission to the space station, where four astronauts spent 17 days in orbit.