SpaceX is sending Saudi astronauts, including the country’s first woman in space, to the International Space Station
Saudi Arabia’s first astronauts in decades shot down to the International Space Station on a multimillion-dollar charter flight on Sunday.
SpaceX created the ticket-holding team headed by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that organized the trip from Kennedy Space Center. Also on board: a US businessman who now owns a sports car racing team.
The four should reach the space station in their capsule on Monday morning; They’ll spend just over a week there before returning home on a waterslide off the Florida coast.
With the support of the Saudi Arabian government, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the kingdom to fly into space. She was joined by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force.
They are the first in their country to fly a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985. Suddenly they are greeted at the station by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.
“Hello from space! It feels great to see Earth from this capsule,” Barnawi said after settling into orbit.
Al-Qarni added: “When I look 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 crew are John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team competing in Europe, and companion Peggy Whitson, the station’s first female commander, who set the US record for longest time spent in space lasts: 665 days and counting.
“It was a phenomenal ride,” Whitson said after reaching orbit. Her comrades clapped their hands in delight.
It is the second private flight to the space station organized by Houston-based Axiom Space.
The first was conducted last year by three businessmen along with another retired NASA astronaut.
The company plans to add its own rooms to the station in a few years, eventually removing them to create a self-contained outpost that can be rented.
Axiom won’t say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia are paying for the proposed 10-day mission. The company previously announced a ticket price of $55 million each.
NASA’s current price list indicates costs of $2,000 per person per day for groceries and up to $1,500 for sleeping bags and other gear.
Need to get your stuff to the space station in advance? Expect to pay about $10,000 per pound ($20,000 per kilogram), the same charge for disposal afterwards. Do you need your items back undamaged? double price.
At least the email and video links are free.
Guests have access to most of the station while conducting experiments, photographing the Earth and chatting with school children at home and demonstrating how kites fly in space when attached to a fan.
After shunning space tourism for decades, NASA is now embracing it with two scheduled private missions a year. The Russian space agency has been doing this repeatedly for decades.
“Our mission is to expand what we’re doing in low Earth orbit around the world,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager.
SpaceX’s first launch vehicle landed back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after launch — a special treat for the launch-day crowd, which included about 60 Saudis. “It’s been a very, very exciting day,” said Axiom’s Matt Ondler.