SpaceX’s launch for a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will be joined by Saudi astronauts

Two astronauts from Saudi Arabia, including the first Saudi woman, will blast off from Florida on May 8 on a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Axiom Space and NASA officials said Thursday. Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, will become the first Saudi woman to voyage into space and will be joined on the mission by fellow Saudi Ali Al-Qarni, a fighter pilot. Also on board will be Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who will be making her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee who will serve as pilot. Liftoff of Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for 10:43 pm Eastern Time on May 8 (08:13 am IST on May 9) from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Axiom Space and NASA officials said in a briefing to preview the flight. The four-member crew will travel to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule and spend 10 days aboard the orbiting space station. The mission to the ISS will be the second by Axiom Space, a private space company. Axiom Space carried out its first private astronaut mission to the ISS in April 2022. Four astronauts spent 17 days in orbit as part of Ax-1. The space mission involving a Saudi woman is the latest move by the kingdom to revamp its ultra-conservative image. But it is not the oil-rich kingdom’s first foray into space. In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an air force pilot, took part in a US-organized space voyage. The neighboring United Arab Emirates has also taken part in space missions and an Emirati astronaut, Sultan al-Neyadi, arrived on the ISS a month ago for a six-month stay.