22 May 2023

Space station welcomes visitors including Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut

22 May 2023

The International Space Station has rolled out the welcome mat for two Saudi visitors, including the kingdom’s first female astronaut.

SpaceX’s chartered flight arrived at the orbiting lab less than 16 hours after blasting off from Florida.

The four guests will spend just over a week there, before returning to Earth in their capsule.

The 270-mile-high docking puts the space station population at 11, representing not only Saudi Arabia and the US, but the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Saudi Arabia’s government is picking up the multimillion-dollar tab for its first female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni.

John Shoffner, a businessman from Knoxville, Tennessee, who started a car racing team, is paying his own way.

Retired Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson is their chaperone.

She now works for Axiom Space, the Houston company that organised the 10-day trip, its second to the space station.

The company cited ticket prices of 55 million dollars (£44 million) each for last year’s private trip by three businessmen, but will not say how much the latest seats cost.

Only one other Saudi has flown before in space, a prince who rode on Nasa’s shuttle Discovery in 1985.

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