First Saudi female astronaut says 'hello from outer space'

Rayyanah Barnawi and fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Al Qarni due to reach International Space Station on Monday evening

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Latest: As it happened: Saudi Arabia sends its first female astronaut into space

Two Saudi astronauts are making their way to the International Space Station, after a historic launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida early on Monday.

Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab woman to go on a space mission, and fellow Saudi Ali Al Qarni are aboard a Dragon spacecraft, along with American colleagues Peggy Whitson and Jeff Shoffner.

They are expected to dock at the space station at 5.24pm Gulf Standard Time – with the hatch between the Dragon and the ISS opening at 7.13pm and a welcome ceremony for the new crew members at 7.45pm.

Ms Barnawi, 33, spoke live from the Dragon capsule, as she and her colleagues journey towards the orbiting outpost for an eight-day stay.

“Hello from outer space,” the research laboratory scientist said.

“It feels amazing to be viewing Earth from this capsule. We're here feeling microgravity, thanks to our kingdom of Saudi Arabia and our leaders King Salman and the visionary Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Rayyanah Barnawi becomes first Saudi woman in space

Rayyanah Barnawi becomes first Saudi woman in space
Rayyanah Barnawi becomes first Saudi woman in space

“Special thanks to my grandmother and my awesome family and friends.

“And to the people around the world – the future is very big. I want you to dream big and believe in yourselves and believe in humanity.”

Once the astronauts arrive at the ISS, they will join the UAE's Sultan Al Neyadi, who is there for a six-month mission.

This will bring the total number of Arabs together in space at one time to three – a record number.

Mr Al Qarni said during the live stream that he believed their arrival in space was “historic for every Saudi”.

“As I look outside into space, I can't help but think that it's the start of a great journey for all of us,” he said.

The four crew members are travelling on the Axiom 2 mission, a privately-led trip to the ISS arranged by Houston company Axiom Space.

About 20 experiments have been assigned to the astronauts during their stay in space – including 14 given to Ms Barnawi and Mr Al Qarni by Saudi researchers.

Ms Barnawi will use her decade-long experience in stem cell research to carry out an experiment sent by the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh.

It involves studying the inflammatory response of human immune cells in microgravity.

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

The Saudi astronauts will also conduct an experiment related to cloud seeding.

They will test cloud-seeding techniques in a reaction chamber.

Updated: May 22, 2023, 7:35 AM