Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Arab astronaut and a breast cancer researcher, and fighter pilot Ali Al Qarni have been launched into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Astronaut Peggy Whitson and business pioneer and pilot John Shoffner are also part of the mission.
The four will work to further the development of the commercial space station envisioned by Axiom Space.
The astronauts blasted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, in the US state of Florida on Sunday at 12:37 am. The Dragon spacecraft will travel for 16 hours to the ISS, with arrival expected at 4:30 pm on Monday.
Alqarni and Barnawi are the second and third Saudi citizens to go to space, after Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew as a payload specialist on a space shuttle mission in 1985. Barnawi is the first female Saudi astronaut.
During their eight-day stay on the ISS, Whitson, Shoffner, Al-Qarni, and Barnawi aim to conduct 20 research projects. Among them are 14 projects developed by Saudi scientists, covering various areas such as human physiology, cell biology, and technology development.
The four astronauts will join three Russians, three Americans, and Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, who was the first Arab national to go on a spacewalk last month.