Two Saudi astronauts embarked on a historic journey to the International Space Station (ISS) after a successful launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab woman to go on a space mission, joined fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Al Qarni and American colleagues Peggy Whitson and Jeff Shoffner aboard the Dragon spacecraft.
The astronauts are expected to dock at the ISS at 5:24 pm Gulf Standard Time, with the hatch between the Dragon and the ISS opening at 7:13 pm, followed by a welcome ceremony for the new crew members at 7:45 pm.
During the live stream from the Dragon capsule, Rayyanah Barnawi, a 33-year-old research laboratory scientist, shared her excitement about being in space. She greeted viewers with, “Hello from outer space,” and expressed her gratitude to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and her family and friends. She encouraged people around the world to dream big and believe in themselves and humanity.
Upon reaching the ISS, the Saudi astronauts will join the UAE’s Sultan Al Neyadi, who is on a six-month mission. This historic moment will mark the highest number of Arabs in space at the same time.
Ali Al Qarni, speaking during the live stream, described their journey as “historic for every Saudi” and expressed his optimism about the great journey ahead.
The four-member crew is part of the Axiom 2 mission, a privately-led trip to the ISS organized by Houston-based company Axiom Space. During their stay in space, the astronauts have been assigned approximately 20 experiments, including 14 from Saudi researchers.
Rayyanah Barnawi, leveraging her expertise in stem cell research, will conduct an experiment sent by the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh. The experiment aims to study the inflammatory response of human immune cells in microgravity and analyze changes in mRNA, the genetic material responsible for protein production.
The Saudi astronauts will also carry out an experiment related to cloud seeding, testing cloud-seeding techniques in a reaction chamber.
This landmark achievement by the Saudi and Arab astronauts further inspires the Arab world and signifies the progress in space exploration and scientific collaboration.