Mon, 29 May 2023

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Saudi Arabia's first astronauts in decades traveled to the International Space Station (ISS) on a chartered multimillion-dollar flight aboard a SpaceX rocket from Kennedy Space Center in the US.

The ticket-holding crew was led by a retired NASA astronaut now working for SpaceX, as well as a US businessman who owns a sports car racing team.

Sponsored by the Saudi government, stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to travel to space, joined by fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni from the Royal Saudi Air Force.

They will be greeted at the space station by an astronaut from the UAE.

The four-man crew will spend just over a week on the space station before returning to Earth, splashing down off the Florida coast.

"Hello from outer space! It feels amazing to be viewing Earth from this capsule," Barnawi said.

"As I look outside into space, I cannot help but think this is just the beginning of a great journey for all of us," al-Qarni added.

Also on the flight are Knoxville, Tennessee's John Shoffner, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team, and Peggy Whitson, the station's first female commander who holds the US record for most accumulated time in space, at 665 days.

The flight is the second private flight to the space station organized by Houston-based Axiom Space, following a trip last year by three businessmen and another retired NASA astronaut.

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