Woman researcher becomes first Saudi female to join space mission to International Space Station
Cape Canaveral: A private space mission organised by Axiom Space is scheduled to launch from Florida, carrying the first two Saudi astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, will make history as the first Saudi woman to travel to space, accompanied by Ali Al-Qarni, a fighter pilot.
The crew, known as the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crew, will embark on their journey aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 5:37 pm (2137 GMT).
The team for the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) also includes Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut with extensive experience, who will be making her fourth flight to the ISS. John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee, will join the mission as the pilot.
The crew is expected to spend approximately 10 days aboard the ISS, and they are scheduled to arrive at around 1:30 pm on Monday.
"Being the first Saudi woman astronaut, representing the region, it's a great pleasure and honor that I'm very happy to carry," said Barnawi at a recent press conference, reported AFP.
The mission is not Saudi Arabia's first foray into space.
In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an air force pilot, participated in a space mission organized by the United States.
However, the upcoming space mission involving a Saudi woman represents a significant milestone for the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has been making efforts to transform its ultraconservative image, particularly since granting women the right to drive a few years ago.
As part of this transformation, the kingdom established the Saudi Space Commission in 2018 and initiated a program last year aimed at sending Saudi astronauts into space.
During their time on the International Space Station (ISS), the four-member team is scheduled to conduct some 20 experiments. One of these experiments will investigate the behaviour of stem cells under zero gravity conditions.
The four-member team will join the current seven astronauts already on board at the International Space Station (ISS). This includes three Russian astronauts, three American astronauts, and Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, who recently became the first Arab national to conduct a spacewalk.
The latest mission to the ISS marks the second collaboration between Axiom Space, a private space company, and NASA, the key holder of the ISS.
Axiom Space offers exclusive space voyages often in the millions of dollars.