February 26, 2024

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Two Saudi astronauts, one male and one female, have left for the ISS

Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Kharni blast off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. They are accompanied by two other team members.

Via Le Figaro with AFP

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Axiom work. Joe Skipper/Reuters

A private mission organized by Axiom Space launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, the first two Saudis, including a woman, to visit the flying laboratory.

Rayna Barnawi and Ali Al-Kharni lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:37 p.m. local time (11:37 p.m. in France) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. They are accompanied by two other team members. Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who has already been to the ISS three times, is commanding the mission. American businessman John Shofner acts as the pilot. They will stay on the International Space Station (ISS) for about 10 days, arriving on Monday at 1:30pm GMT (3:30pm French time).

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“Read more – Sending Saudi astronauts to ISS: “Saudi Arabia and UAE in space race”

Improving the image of Saudi Arabia

It is my pleasure and honor to be the first female Saudi astronaut and to represent the region.Rayana Barnavi, a scientist by training, told a press conference this week. She said she was excited to talk to the ISS children: “Seeing the astronauts’ faces for the first time from their own space is very exciting.“, she said.

In everyday life, Ali al-Qarni is a fighter pilot. “I have always been interested in exploring the unknown and admiring the sky and stars“, he explained. “So this is a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue this passion, this time to fly among the stars.ยป

The oil-rich state has already sent one of its nationals into space in the past. In 1985, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Salman participated in the US mission. But the new space flight is part of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s strategy to improve the image of the country, where women were not allowed to drive until just a few years ago. Saudi Arabia created the Saudi Space Agency in 2018 and launched a program to send astronauts into space last year.

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