SpaceX will send two Saudi astronauts to the ISS

The second fully private crew to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) is now complete. NASA and Axiom Space have indeed announced the integration of two Saudi astronauts for this flight – including a woman. Take-off is scheduled for the spring. This is the first time that this nationality will be represented on board the orbital complex.

Two Saudis aboard the ISS

Last April, the first entirely private team of astronauts launched into space, heading for the International Space Station. For two weeks, the four crew members of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission have been busy conducting research into heart health, neuroscience and holoportation, underestimating their workload on board. from the station.

Now, NASA and Houston-based company Axiom Space are preparing a second private mission (Ax-2)scheduled for spring 2023.

We already know the first two crew members on board. They are American astronaut Peggy Whitson, now retired, and John Shoffner, race car and air show driver. The other two crew members, whose names are still unknown to the public, will be Saudis, reports space news.

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to launch an astronaut program. We also knew that the country was planning to send two people into space, including at least one woman, shortly. It looks like the project is coming to fruition. This new private mission from Axiom Space, in collaboration with SpaceX (which provides the ship), will therefore open the curtain on this nascent program.

Note that these will not be the first Saudi citizens in space. In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud had indeed participated in the STS-51-G mission, the 5th of the space shuttle Discovery. French driver Patrick Baudry was also there.

The presence of a woman in the crew of Ax-2 is also remarkable, considering that Saudi women were still banned from driving cars until 2018.

The four privately-crewed Axiom-1 (Ax-1) members join the seven-member Expedition 67 crew on April 9, 2022. Credit: NASA

Don’t repeat the same mistakes

Regarding the mission itself, the launch of Ax-2 will take place aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Following certain planning problems on the Axiom side, forcing NASA to requisition an astronaut from the station to complete the work of Ax-1, the agency has since introduced requirements that all Axiom missions be led by a former astronaut from the agency. That’s why Peggy Whitson will direct Ax-2.

In addition, NASA will also approve all scientific experiments that may be conducted during the planning phase of the mission.

Finally, remember that Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the Artemis agreements, which aim to create a new legal framework for future lunar exploration work. For its part, Axiom Space has also been chosen by NASA to develop the next space suits allowing astronauts to walk on the Moon as part of the Artemis 3 mission.

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