Rayyanah Barnawi becomes first Saudi woman in space

The astronaut was launched to the International Space Station alongside compatriot Ali Al Qarni

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As it happened: SpaceX launches two Saudi astronauts to space

Rayyanah Barnawi has become the first Saudi woman to go into space, after being launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early on Monday.

The research scientist blasted off as part of the privately led Axiom 2 mission to the International Space Station, alongside colleague Ali Al Qarni and Americans Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, for an eight-day trip.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the crew members to space at 1.37am UAE time from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The Dragon spacecraft separated from the rocket at 1.50am to begin its 16-hour journey to the orbiting outpost, with arrival expected at 6pm.

They will join the UAE’s Dr Sultan Al Neyadi, who is on the station for a six-month science mission.

“I never thought that I would ever be going to space, but at the same time it feels like a dream come true. It's an overwhelming feeling,” Ms Barnawi said in a pre-launch video released by Axiom Space, the Houston company that helped to arrange the trip for Saudi Arabia.

“It honestly feels like I am representing all Saudis' ambitions, all females and all researchers as well.

“It's a big honour to be able to go to space and at the same time do the things that you love the most.”

Saudi Arabia’s renewed interest in space

This is the maiden trip for Saudi Arabia’s new astronaut programme, which was announced last year.

Ms Barnawi and Mr Al Qarni are the second Saudi citizens in space after Prince Sultan bin Salman, who travelled in Nasa's space shuttle for a week-long trip in 1985.

When he returned, the kingdom did not set up a long-term space exploration programme.

Now, Saudi Arabia has renewed its ambitions in space, with a "sustainable" astronaut programme.

What’s the Axiom 2 mission?

The Ax-2 crew have been assigned 20 science experiments, including 14 given to Ms Barnawi and Mr Al Qarni by Saudi researchers.

One of the experiments is to test cloud-seeding techniques in a reaction chamber.

They will also perform a trial that involves studying the inflammatory response of human immune cells in microgravity.

They will investigate changes in mRNA – a genetic material that tells the body how to make proteins.

Updated: May 22, 2023, 7:52 AM