New Delhi: Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the Saudi Arabia to go to space on a chartered multimillion-dollar flight of SpaceX on Sunday. She was joined by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force.
Both of them are part of the four persons, led by a retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and also comprising of a US businessman and owners of a sports car racing team John Shoffner. They took off on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in the southern United States at 5:37pm local time (21:37 GMT).
The four, who reached the International Space Station (ISS) Monday morning, will spend just over a week there before returning home with a splashdown off the Florida coast.
The Saudi nationals are the first from their country to ride a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985. Coincidently, they were greeted at the station by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“It was 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, then they can do it, too,” she added.
Whitson, the station’s first female commander who holds the US record for most accumulated time in space for 665 days and counting said, “It was a phenomenal ride,” after reaching orbit.
2nd private flight to space by Axiom
It’s the second private flight to the space station organized by Houston-based Axiom Space. The first was last year by three businessmen, with another retired NASA astronaut. The company plans to start adding its own rooms to the station in another few years, eventually removing them to form a stand-alone outpost available for hire.
Cost to travel to the space station
Though the Axiom, which arranged the space trip on payment, did not disclose the cost of travel nor the Saudi Arabia, which is paying for it, it is believed that the government had spent millions of dollars for the 10-day mission. The company had previously cited a ticket price of $55 million each.
NASA’s latest price list shows per-person, per-day charges of $2,000 for food and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear. This is besides $20,000 for taking per kg of other stuff taken to the space station in advance. And it cost the same for trashing it afterward. However, the email and video links are being provided free of cost to the astronauts.
“Our job is to expand what we do in low-Earth orbit across the globe, said NASA’s space station program manager Joel Montalbano. The SpaceX’s first-stage booster landed back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff, to be recycled for a future flight.