How Saudi astronauts are preparing for trip to International Space Station

Rayyanah Barnawi, set to become the first Arab woman in space, and Ali Al Qarni will take part in 10-day mission

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The next Arab achievement in space will involve two Saudi astronauts who are heading to the International Space Station for a 10-day mission.

Rayyanah Barnawi, who is set to become the first Arab female in space, and Ali Al Qarni will be part of the Axiom-2 mission on May 12 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It comes nearly 40 years after Saudi Arabia sent the first Arab to space.

Prince Sultan bin Salman went on a week-long trip on the Space Shuttle in 1985.

With the launch only about two months away, The National takes a look at how the Saudi astronauts have been training.

Living in a space habitat

The Ax-2 astronauts have taken part in the Human Exploration Research Analogue (Hera) programme to prepare themselves for their trip.

They spent a week inside the habitat, a small three-storey structure at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, which simulates space travel.

Analogue missions simulate long-duration journeys into space and usually involve confining a team to a habitat with conditions similar to those they will experience in space. Photo: Nasa

The habitat serves as a ground-based analogue for isolation, confinement and remote conditions in exploration scenarios.

"The Hera programme not only prepared us for the physical demands of space travel but also helped us develop the teamwork and communication skills necessary for a successful mission," Mr Al Qarni tweeted.

During their time in the habitat, the crew completed tasks they will conduct on the ISS, underwent rigorous training using equipment and worked through emergency scenarios.

Cooking up space food

The crew has also been learning how to prepare food while on the space station.

Water is heavy, so astronauts usually take dehydrated meals, freeze-dried food and powdered beverages to space, as it helps reduce weight and save storage space.

"Preparing food in space is different than on Earth," Mr Al Qarni tweeted on February 24, along with photos of himself and Ms Barnawi.

Astronauts add water or reheat their food before consumption.

Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni learnt how to prepare food in space. Photo: Ali Al Qarni / Twitter

It is thought the Saudi crew will be taking traditional cuisine into space although this has not been made official.

Prince Salman had a special menu on the shuttle, including sweet and sour chicken, boiled sweetcorn, cauliflower cheese, tuna salad, pasta, shrimp, salmon, fried chicken, hot chocolate, fruit and vegetables and decaffeinated coffee and tea.

UAE's first astronaut took traditional Emirati dishes, including balaleet (an Emirati breakfast staple of sweetened vermicelli served with an omelette on top), salona (chicken stew) and madrooba (a savoury thick oatmeal).

And Dr Al Neyadi has also taken dates and other Arab dishes. The full menu will be announced at a later date.

Learning about the station

The Saudi astronauts are also being trained on the systems and equipment on the ISS.

They will dock on the Harmony module, the American segment of the station.

"One of the highlights of astronaut training is having the opportunity to learn about innovative space technologies that are used on board the ISS," Mr Al Qarni said last week.

Ms Al Barnawi and Mr Al Qarni will serve as mission specialists on the ISS, which means they will be conducting scientific experiments and outreach activities.

Updated: March 10, 2023, 4:11 AM