SpaceX Sends Saudi Astronauts to ISS
The second-ever private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday.
- The second-ever private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday. Aboard the mission from [US firm] Axiom Space was Saudi Arabia's first two astronauts to travel to an orbital laboratory, Rayyanah Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, and fighter pilot Ali Al-Qarni.1
- The team also includes former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee who is serving as the pilot. They were planned to reach the ISS Monday morning and return a week later, landing off the coast of Florida.2
- While at the ISS, the group will conduct about 20 experiments, including studying the behavior of stem cells in zero gravity. They will also join seven others already aboard the station — three Russians, three Americans, and Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi.1
- Other experiments focus on DNA-inspired therapeutics, tissue regeneration in zero gravity, stem cell aging, and cloud seeding in microgravity, as well as testing a new "skinsuit" that could help future astronauts stay fit in low-gravity environments.3
- Barnawi, now the first Saudi woman to make it to space, and al-Qarni are both not the first from their nation to travel to space. They follow a Saudi prince who launched aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1985.4
- While Axiom won't say how much the crew is paying to participate in the private flight, they previously cited a ticket price of $55M each, which will give them access to most of the station as they conduct experiments, photograph Earth, and chat with school children back home.5
Sources: 1Phys, 2Al Jazeera, 3GeekWire, 4NBC, and 5NPR Online News.
- Narrative A, as provided by Wired. This is the beginning of not only privatized space tourism but the creation of space stations other than the ISS. Axiom plans to connect its own modules to the ISS by 2025 and then detach them to create a completely separate outer space laboratory. This flight has also shown the potential for space exploration companies to bring countries together and provide access to space travel to previously excluded groups.
- Narrative B, as provided by CNN. Space tourism is a rich man's game, and it will remain that way for a long time. Even the shorter and much quicker trips, like Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson's flight into orbit, cost $250K. As for spending time on the ISS, that has and will continue to cost tens of millions of dollars. Space ventures continue to be a pet project of the wealthy.