SpaceX sends Saudi astronauts, including the country’s first woman in space, to the International Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL: The first Saudi astronauts in decades have exploded towards the international space station on a multi-million dollar charter flight on Sunday.
SpaceX kicked off the team of ticket holders, led by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that organized the trip from Kennedy Space Center. Also on board: an American businessman who now owns a sports car racing team.
The four are expected to reach the space station in their capsule on Monday morning; they will spend just over a week there before returning home with a splash off the coast of Florida.
Sponsored by the Saudi government, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman in the kingdom to go into space. She was joined by Ali al-Qarni, a Royal Saudi Air Force fighter pilot.
They are the first from their country to pilot a rocket since a Saudi prince launched on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985. In the blink of an eye, they will be greeted at the station by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates .
“Hello from space! It’s amazing to see Earth from this capsule,” Barnawi said after settling into orbit.
al-Qarni added, “As I gaze into space, I can’t help but think that this is just the beginning of a great journey for all of us.”
Rounding out the visiting team: John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team that competes in Europe, and chaperone Peggy Whitson, the first female station commander who holds the American record for most accumulated time in space: 665 days and counting.
“It was a phenomenal ride,” Whitson said after reaching orbit. His teammates cheered with joy.
This is the second private flight to the space station by Houston-based Axiom Space. The first was last year by three businessmen, along with another retired NASA astronaut. The company plans to start adding its own rooms to the station in a few years, then removing them to form a self-contained outpost available for rent.
Axiom won’t say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia are paying for the planned 10-day mission. The company had previously quoted a ticket price of $55 million each.
Nasa’s latest price list lists a per person per day charge of $2,000 for food and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear. Need to get your stuff to the space station ahead of time? Figure about $10,000 per pound ($20,000 per kilogram), the same cost to throw it away afterwards. Need to get your items back intact? Double the price.
At least the email and video links are free.
Guests will have access to most of the station as they conduct experiments, photograph Earth and chat with school children at home, demonstrating how kites fly through space when attached to a fan.
After decades of avoiding space tourism, NASA is now embracing it with two private missions planned per year. The Russian Space Agency has been doing this, on and off, for decades.
“Our job is to expand what we do in low Earth orbit around the world,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA space station program manager.
SpaceX’s first-stage booster touched down at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff – a treat for the launch-day crowd, which included around 60 Saudis. “It was a very, very exciting day,” said Axiom’s Matt Ondler.


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