Wednesday, May 31, 2023
A spaceship from Elon Musk's SpaceX landed off the coast of Florida carrying two Saudi astronauts including the first Saudi woman Rayyanah Barnawi, after completing their eight days of stay in the international space outpost International Space Station (ISS) late Tuesday.
It was the second private mission to ISS.
Among the crew was compatriot Ali Al-Qarni, and Americans Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner. They waved happily towards cameras as they came out of their Crew Dragon.
As they came out they were supported out of the SpaceX ship because they were unsteady on their feet after spending days in space.
"Welcome back to Earth!" Nasa chief Bill Nelson wrote on Twitter.
In a statement, Axiom Space said: “The four-member crew conducted more than 20 research experiments and served as research subjects to better understand the impacts of microgravity on the human body and to develop technologies that can assist future human spaceflight.”
The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) was lifted off with the help of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on May 21.
It was the company’s second private mission to the ISS as the first one was in April last year, with each of its three paying crew members reported to have paid millions for their tickets.
The amount which Saudi Arabia spent on its two nationals was not disclosed nor was the amount paid by Shoffner, an entrepreneur.
Whitson is a former Nasa astronaut now contracted by Axiom.
The mission has been something of a publicity coup for Saudi Arabia, whose ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to project a softer global image since taking power.
Axiom is one of several companies working on a commercial space station to replace the ISS once it retires after 2030.
Nasa has made it a goal to stimulate a commercial economy in the region of space called low Earth orbit, leaving it to focus on missions deeper into space, such as returning to the Moon with humans and then going on to Mars.