SpaceX successfully launched a multi-million dollar flight to the International Space Station on Sunday evening with two Saudis on board – the nation’s first astronauts in decades.
The ticket-holding crew were led by a retired NASA astronaut now working Elon Musk’s company amid a new billionaire galactic space chase.
Also on board was US businessman John Shoffner, who owns a sports car racing team.
The four should reach the space station Monday morning, where they’ll spend just over a week onboard before returning home with a splashdown off the Florida coast.
Sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the kingdom to go to space.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with 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 joined by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force.
They’re the first from their country to ride a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985.
In a quirk of timing, they’ll be 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, then they can do it, too.’
Rounding out the visiting crew: Knoxville, Tennessee’s John Shoffner, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team that competes in Europe, and chaperone Peggy Whitson, the station’s first female commander who holds the U.S. record for most accumulated time in space: 665 days and counting.
‘It was a phenomenal ride,’ Whitson said after reaching orbit. Her crewmates clapped their hands in joy.
It’s the second private flight to the space station organized by Houston-based Axiom Space.
The four astronauts include Rayyanah Barnawi (left) and Ali al-Qarni (right) from Saudi Arabia along with U.S. businessman John Shoffner (center left) and retired NASA commander Peggy Whitson (center right)
The company launched the ticket-holding crew, led by a retired NASA astronaut now working for the company that arranged the trip, as part of a galactic space chase involving CEO Elon Musk
It’s the second private flight to the space station organized 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 lift off
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.
Axiom won’t say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia are paying for the planned 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.
Need to get your stuff to the space station in advance? Figure roughly $10,000 per pound, the same fee for trashing it afterward. Need your items back intact? Double the price. Email and video links are free.
The guests will have access to most of the station as they conduct experiments, photograph Earth and chat with schoolchildren back home, demonstrating 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 charges 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 start adding its own rooms to the station in another few years, eventually removing them to form a stand-alone outpost available for hire
After decades of shunning space tourism, NASA now embraces it with two private missions planned a year.
The Russian Space Agency has been doing it, off and on, for decades.
‘Our job is to expand what we do in low-Earth orbit across the globe,’ said NASA’s space station program manager Joel Montalbano.
SpaceX’s first-stage booster landed back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff, to be recycled for a future flight.