First Saudi woman in orbit, other astronauts, splash down off Florida

In this photo provided by NASA, Axiom Mission-2 and Expedition 69 crew members gather for a portrait together during dinner time aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (NASA via AP)

A private flight carrying two Saudi astronauts and other passengers have returned to Earth after a nine-day trip to the International Space Station.

The capsule carrying the four parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Florida Panhandle late on Tuesday, 12 hours after undocking from the orbiting lab.

The Saudi government picked up the multimillion-dollar tab for its two astronauts: Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher who became the first Saudi woman in space; and fighter pilot Ali al Qarni.

Barnawi wiped away tears as she wrapped up her experiments and prepared to leave the space station.

"Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region," she said on Monday.

In August 2022, Sara Sabry became the first Arab woman and the first Egyptian to fly to space on a brief suborbital ride operated by the Blue Origin astro-tourist venture of Jeff Bezos.

The ISS stay of Alqarni and Barnawi was also notable for overlapping with that of Sultan Alneyadi, an ISS Expedition-69 crew member from the United Arab Emirates, marking the first time three astronauts from the Arab world were aboard the space station together.

Space expeditions

The return flight concludes the second space station mission organised, equipped and trained entirely at private expense by Axiom Space, a seven-year-old Houston-based company headed by NASA's former ISS programme manager.

The Axiom 2 crew was led by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, 63, who holds the US record for most time spent in orbit, having logged 665 days in space during three long-duration missions to the ISS, including 10 spacewalks.

Ax-2's designated pilot was John Shoffner, 67, an aviator, race car driver and investor from Alaska.

They rocketed into orbit last week on Axiom's second chartered flight to the space station.

The company plans to send up more clients by year's end.

Axiom also has contracted with the US space agency to build the first commercial addition to the orbiting laboratory.

California-based SpaceX, founded by Twitter owner and Tesla Inc electric carmaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the Falcon 9 rocket and crew capsule that ferried Axiom's team to and from orbit and controlled the flight.

NASA furnished the launch site at its Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and assumed responsibility for the Axiom crew during their stay aboard the space station, orbiting some 400 km above Earth.


Source: TRT