Saudi Arabia is set to send two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) next month. Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, and Ali Al Qarni, a fighter pilot, will join UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi on the 10-day mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The target launch date was announced by SpaceX and Axiom Space, the company in Houston that has helped arrange the trip for Saudi Arabia. The inaugural flight is part of the kingdom’s sustainable human space flight program, announced in September. The Saudi astronauts will focus on 11 of the 20 science experiments assigned to the AX-2 crew. They will take off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on May 9 at 6.43 am UAE time.
Saudi Arabia is preparing for a significant milestone in the country’s space program, as two Saudi astronauts are set to embark on a 10-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in May. The target launch date was recently announced during a remote media briefing by SpaceX and Axiom Space, the Houston-based company that arranged the trip for Saudi Arabia.
The AX-2 mission will include Rayyanah Barnawi, who will become the first Arab woman to go to space, and Ali Al Qarni. They will join former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and US pilot John Shoffner on the mission. The Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the Dragon crew capsule to space, and the spacecraft will take about 37 hours to dock with the station.
The Saudi astronauts will be assigned 11 science experiments, focusing on breast cancer and stem cell research. The Saudi Space Commission has received scientific proposals from universities across the country to be included in the experiments.
The Saudi government is planning a sustainable human spaceflight program, with the AX-2 mission being the inaugural flight under this program. Mishaal Ashemimry, the microgravity research lead at the Saudi Space Commission, said that the country is considering long-duration space missions in the future. She added that the human space flight program is intended to be sustainable, with a constant flow of astronauts going to space to conduct research for the betterment of humanity.
The AX-2 mission is also significant because of Axiom Space’s involvement in the trip. The same company helped the UAE secure its recent trip to the ISS, and has also signed similar deals with Turkey, Italy, and Hungary, ultimately helping more countries get access to space. The space infrastructure company is also building a commercial space station in low-Earth orbit that would welcome tourists, astronauts, and researchers.
Michael Suffredini, CEO of Axiom Space, said that the company is in the process of signing on two more countries. Suffredini also emphasized the importance of cooperation between countries in space exploration, saying, “we think what we’re doing is not only serving a market but more importantly helping us as a species learn to live off the planet which is going to be very important.”
Image Credit: Axiom Space/Twitter