News & Current Affairs

Rayyanah Barnawi Becomes First Saudi Woman Sent To Space

By Azeezat Okunlola | May 23, 2023
On Sunday, stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi made history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to go into space.
The ticketed crew was led by a former NASA astronaut who is currently working for Axiom Space, the company responsible for organizing the mission out of Kennedy Space Centre and launched by SpaceX.
The Saudi Arabian astronauts are the first members of their country to fly in space since the shuttle Discovery was launched in 1985 by a Saudi monarch.
Barnawi was escorted on her journey by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force. At 5:37 p.m. EST (21:37 GMT), they launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee, is serving as pilot, and former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is also on board; this will be Whitson's fourth trip to the ISS.
The crew is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Monday morning and will spend less than a week there before making a splashdown off the coast of Florida.
“Hello from outer space! It feels amazing to be viewing the earth from this capsule,” Ms Barnawi said.
Barnawi, the first Saudi woman astronaut, sponsored by the Saudi government, called it "a great pleasure and honour."
In addition to the research she plans to do on board, she is also looking forward to meeting kids and telling them about her experience. She remarked that it was exciting to watch people's reactions as they saw astronauts from their own region for the first time.
Al-Qarni said he has “always had the passion of exploring the unknown and just admiring the sky and the stars”.
“It is a great opportunity for me to pursue this kind of passion that I have, and now maybe just fly among the stars,” he said.
This is Axiom's second privately-organized expedition to the ISS. 
The first time occurred a year ago when three businessmen and a former NASA astronaut got together to accomplish it. In a few more years, the firm intends to begin constructing its own quarters at the station, with the final goal of transforming the space into a privately rented colony.
Axiom refused to disclose the cost of the 10-day journey to Saudi Arabia and Shoffner, the Tennessee billionaire funding it. Previously, the firm had estimated that each ticket would cost $55 million.
NASA has changed its mind about space tourism and is now planning two commercial missions each year. For decades, the Russian Space Agency has been intermittently exploring space.
"Our job is to expand what we do in low-Earth orbit across the globe," said Joel Montalbano, NASA's space station programme manager.
Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX's first-stage booster landed back at Cape Canaveral — a special treat for the launch day audience, which included approximately sixty Saudis.
"It was a very, very exciting day," Axiom's Matt Ondler remarked.