ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Private space mission carrying Saudi astronauts docks at ISS

Arriving aboard SpaceX capsule, scientist and fighter pilot become the first two people from the kingdom at the orbital outpost

People walk past a poster with the picture of Saudi Space Commission astronauts Ali Al-Qarni (L) and Rayyanah Barnawi, of the Axiom Mission 2, at a government-organized viewing party in Riyadh on May 21, 2023. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP)
People walk past a poster with the picture of Saudi Space Commission astronauts Ali Al-Qarni (L) and Rayyanah Barnawi, of the Axiom Mission 2, at a government-organized viewing party in Riyadh on May 21, 2023. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP)

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX capsule carrying two Saudi astronauts docked with the International Space Station on Monday, as part of a private mission chartered by Axiom Space.

Rayyanah Barnawi, a scientist who became the first Saudi woman to go into space, and Ali Al-Qarni, a trained fighter pilot, are the first two people from their country to go to the orbital outpost.

“It was a lovely ride,” said mission commander Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who made the voyage three times in the past, adding: “It was the softest docking I’ve ever felt.”

The fourth crew member is American businessman John Shoffner.

About two hours after docking, the capsule’s hatch will be opened to allow the four to enter the ISS, where they will join the seven astronauts already on board (three Russians, three Americans, and an Emirati).

The SpaceX rocket took off from Florida on Sunday, and the trip to the ISS, which flies around 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth, lasted about 16 hours.

This mission, named Ax-2, is the second fully private mission to visit the Space Station, following a first in April 2022. The members of Ax-2 will stay about ten days and carry out about 20 experiments.

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