Monday, May 22, 2023
A private mission organized by Axiom Space successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying the first two Saudi astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This second-ever private mission to the ISS marks a significant milestone in space exploration. Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, became the first Saudi woman to venture into space, accompanied by fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Al-Qarni, a fighter pilot.
The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew embarked on their journey aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The launch took place at 5:37pm ET, captivating the world's attention. Alongside Barnawi and Al-Qarni, the crew includes Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who is making her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee serving as the pilot.
During a press conference, Barnawi expressed her immense pleasure and honour at being the first Saudi woman astronaut. She spoke of her excitement about the research she will conduct in space and her eagerness to share her experiences with children. Al-Qarni, a career fighter pilot, shared his lifelong passion for exploring the unknown and his eagerness to fly among the stars.
The mission encompasses a range of experiments to be conducted on the ISS, including the study of stem cell behaviour in zero gravity. The team will join the existing crew members already aboard the ISS, which includes astronauts from Russia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. Together, they will contribute to ongoing research and advancements in space exploration.
Axiom Space's mission to the ISS represents a significant step towards its ultimate goal of constructing its own space station. The company plans to launch the first module in 2025, with the initial attachment to the ISS before the station becomes an independent orbiting entity. This ambitious endeavour aligns with NASA's vision to retire the ISS by 2030 and shift focus to private stations, encouraging the development of programs by various companies.
The successful launch of the Ax-2 mission showcases the progress and potential of private space travel. It signifies Saudi Arabia's entry into the space exploration arena and the nation's commitment to transforming its image. As the Axiom crew embarks on their mission, the world eagerly anticipates the valuable contributions they will make during their stay aboard the ISS.