A Saudi couple takes off for the ISS [Vidéos] – World

The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) mission took off on Sunday for the International Space Station (ISS). On board, the Saudis Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni, Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who has already been to the ISS three times and who commands the mission, as well as the American entrepreneur John Shoffner, who acts as the pilot. This mission took off shortly before 5:40 p.m. (11:40 p.m.) in France aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Ten days on the ISS

The four astronauts use a SpaceX Dragon capsule to reach the International Space Station, where they are due to arrive around 3:24 p.m. (French time) on Monday and where they will spend ten days. “Thank you for trusting the Falcon 9 team. I hope you enjoyed the journey to space. Have a good trip aboard Dragon. Welcome home zero G, Peggy,” SpaceX chief engineer Bill Gerstenmaier told the three astronauts, according to live broadcast radio communications.

One of the rocket’s boosters returned to Earth and landed on a designated area, which is “a first for manned spaceflight,” SpaceX tweeted.

Rayana Barnawi: “A great pleasure and an honor”

“Being the first Saudi woman astronaut, and representing the region, is a great pleasure and an honor,” said Rayana Barnawi, a scientist by training, during a press conference a few days before the departure. She said she’s excited about talking to children from the ISS: “Being able to see their faces when they see astronauts from their own region for the first time is very exciting,” she said.

In everyday life, Ali Al-Qarni is a fighter pilot. “I’ve always had a passion for exploring the unknown, and admiring the sky and the stars,” he explained. “So this is a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue that passion, and this time to fly among the stars. »

A first since… 1985

The rich oil state has already sent one of its nationals into space in the past. In 1985, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman took part in an American mission. “I am happy that Saudi Arabia is going back into space,” Sultan bin Salman told AFP in Riyadh, where a party was being held to watch the launch live. “God willing, this is just the beginning,” he added.

The new space trip is part of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s strategy to improve the image of the country, where women were not allowed to drive just a few years ago. Saudi Arabia created the Saudi Space Authority in 2018, and last year launched a program to send astronauts into space.

Twenty experiences during their stay

The four crew members must carry out around twenty experiments during their stay. One of them consists in studying the behavior of stem cells in weightlessness. They will join the seven passengers already on board the ISS: three Russians, three Americans, and the Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, who last month became the first national of an Arab country to go out in space.

This mission, named Ax-2, is the second in a partnership between the American space agency (which opens the doors to the ISS) and Axiom Space, which offers these extraordinary stays for amounts that are counted in millions of dollars. . The company is responsible for the training of apprentice astronauts, chartering the means of transport, and the smooth running of their stay.

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