Cape Canaveral. Eleven people are now bustling about on the International Space Station. On Monday, a “Dragon” capsule from the space company SpaceX docked with four space tourists 430 kilometers above Earth to the ISS. They were greeted by the crew from the US, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
“It shows how space brings everyone together,” said the first Saudi Arabian astronaut, stem cell researcher Rajjanah Barnaui upon arrival. “I will enjoy this experience to the fullest.” Her compatriot Ali al-Karni dedicated the visit to all the people in his homeland. “This expedition is not just for me and Rajjanah. This mission is also for people with ambition and dreams,” said the Air Force pilot.
The two are accompanied by American businessman John Shoffner and former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. She works for the company Axiom Space, which organized the ten-day flight. Last year, together with SpaceX and the US space agency Nasa, it organized a private flight to the ISS for the first time.
During their week-long stay on the space station, the guests will have access to most areas of the ISS, conduct experiments, photograph the earth and be connected to school children on earth.
Ex-Nasa astronaut: “It was a phenomenal flight”
“It’s a dream that has come true for everyone,” said Barnaui before departure on Sunday. “Just being able to understand that this is possible. If me and Ali can do it, so can they.” Leading the mission was former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who now works for Axiom Space. The former First Commander of the ISS holds her country’s record for the longest total stay in space with 665 days until Sunday. Also on board was US businessman John Shoffner, who owns a racing team and is a former racing driver.
Barnaui, the Saudi pioneer, obviously enjoyed the view of the earth from the endless expanse. “Hello from space! It feels incredible to see Earth from this capsule,” she said after entering orbit. Al-Karni spoke of the “beginning of a great journey for all of us”. Whitson declared, “It was a phenomenal flight,” to enthusiastic applause from fellow passengers.
Guests will have access to most areas of the ISS, conduct experiments, photograph Earth, and connect with school children on Earth during their stay on the space station of just over a week. After long eschewing space tourism, Nasa now welcomes it with two private missions planned each year.
Axiom did not provide any information on ticket prices. The first private flight last year was said to be $55 million per person. Shoffner will bear his own costs, while Saudi Arabia will pay for Barnaui and Al-Karnai. They are the first representatives of their country in space since 1985. At that time, a prince had started on a space flight on board the space shuttle “Discovery”.