SpaceX successfully launched a multi-million dollar flight to the International Space Station on Sunday evening with two Saudis on board, the country’s first astronauts in decades.
The company launched the ticketed crew, led by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that arranged the trip, as part of a galactic space hunt involving CEO Elon Musk.
Also on board: American businessman John Shoffner, owner of a sports car racing team.
The four should reach the space station Monday morning, where they will spend just over a week aboard before returning home with a landing off the coast of Florida.
Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, was sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government and became the first woman from the kingdom to go to space.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Dragon capsule and a crew of four private astronauts lifts off from pad 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Sunday
She was accompanied by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force.
They are the first from their country to ride a rocket since a Saudi prince was launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985.
In a quirk of timing, they are greeted at the station by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.
“This is a dream come true for everyone,” Barnawi said before the flight.
“Just being able to understand that this is possible. If me and Ali can do it, so can they.’
Rounding out the visiting crew: John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, former racing driver and owner of a sports car racing team competing in Europe, and accompanist Peggy Whitsonthe station’s first female commander to hold the U.S. record for most total time in space: 665 days with more to come.
“It was a phenomenal ride,” said Whitson after getting into orbit. Her crewmen clapped their hands in joy.
It is the second private flight to the space station to be hosted by Houston-based Axiom Space.
The four astronauts are Rayyanah Barnawi (left) and Ali al-Qarni (right) of Saudi Arabia, along with American businessman John Shoffner (center left) and retired NASA commander Peggy Whitson (center right)
The company launched the ticketed crew, led by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that arranged the trip, as part of a galactic space hunt involving CEO Elon Musk
It is the second private flight to the space station hosted by Houston-based Axiom Space and the first time Saudis have been in space since 1985
People watch a screen in Riyadh on May 21, 2023 as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Axiom Mission 2 astronauts prepares to take off
The first was through last year three businessmenwith another retired NASA astronaut.
The company plans to add its own rooms to the station in a few years, eventually removing them to form a self-contained outpost available for rent.
Axiom would not say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia will pay for the planned 10-day mission. The company had previously quoted a ticket price of $55 million each.
NASA’s most recent price list shows costs per person, per day of $2,000 for food and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear.
Do you need to bring your stuff to the space station ahead of time? Calculate about $10,000 per pound, the same fee for throwing it away afterwards. Do you want your belongings back intact? Double the price. Email and video links are free.
The guests can access most of the station as they conduct experiments, photograph the Earth and chat with schoolchildren back home, and demonstrate how kites fly in space when attached to a fan.
Barnawi became the first Saudi woman in space when the Space X launch successfully reached orbit
NASA’s latest price list shows per-person, per-day costs of $2,000 for food and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear for time aboard the International Space Station
The company plans to add its own rooms to the station in a few years, eventually removing them to form a self-contained outpost available for rent
After shunning space tourism for decades, NASA is now embracing it with two scheduled private missions per year.
The Russian space agency has been doing it intermittently for decades.
“Our job is to expand what we do in low Earth orbit around the world,” said NASA’s space station program manager Joel Montalbano.
SpaceX’s first stage booster landed back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after launch, to be recycled for a future flight.