They’re back! Saudi astronauts return safely to Earth after mission to International Space Station

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The first view of the four after the safely landed back on Earth. (AXIOM Space screengrab)
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The crew includes commander, former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, and pilot John Shoffner, flanked by Saudis Ali Al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. (AXIOM Space)
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Updated 31 May 2023

They’re back! Saudi astronauts return safely to Earth after mission to International Space Station

  • Rayyanah Barnawi first Saudi Arabian and Arab woman to go into space
  • Two Saudi astronauts carried out 8 days of significant research aboard the ISS

JEDDAH: The second all-private mission to fly to the International Space Station returned to Earth off the coast of Florida on Wednesday, carrying two Saudi astronauts following eight days of scientific research aboard the ISS.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying them parachuted down onto the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, after a 12-hour return flight and blazing re-entry plunge through Earth's atmosphere.
The splashdown was carried live by a joint webcast presented by SpaceX and the company behind the mission, Axiom Space.

Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi participated in experiments with Saudi school children as part of their eight-day stay on ISS.

When the door of the capsule opened Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab woman to orbit Earth, gave a thumbs up to the camera.

The four astronauts were helped out of the capsule by crew before boarding a helicopter to land where they are due to be flown to Cape Canaveral by plane, where they will meet their families.


The touchdown concluded the second space station mission organized, equipped and trained entirely at private expense by Axiom, a 7-year-old Houston-based venture headed by NASA's former ISS program manager.

The Saudi government picked up the multimillion-dollar tab for its two astronauts: Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher who became the first Saudi woman in space; and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni.
The Axiom 2 crew was led by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, 63, who holds the US record for most time spent in orbit with 665 days in space over three long-duration missions to the ISS, including 10 spacewalks.

During the mission tasks involved working with cutting-edge technologies, while the two Saudis acted as global ambassadors in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.



TIMELINE: AX-2 mission’s return to Earth

Some do argue that strictly speaking Barnawi was not the first Arab woman to enter space.

Indeed, in August 2022, Sara Sabry became the first Arab woman and the first Egyptian to fly to space on a brief suborbital ride operated by the Blue Origin astro-tourist venture of Jeff Bezos.

But Barnawi was the first to enter space and orbit Earth.
The ISS stay of Alqarni and Barnawi was also notable for overlapping with that of Sultan Alneyadi, an ISS Expedition-69 crew member from the United Arab Emirates, marking the first time three astronauts from the Arab world were aboard the space station together.

The Axiom Mission-2 and Expedition 69 crew members pose for a portrait together during dinner time aboard the International Space Station. (NASA)

In an emotional farewell ceremony at the end of the mission on Monday, the Axiom-2 crew members reflected on their time in space.

Barnawi said: “Every story comes to an end, and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region.”

Al-Qarni, who with Barnawi became the first Saudi to visit the space station, said: “This is our last day in our great mission. We have achieved all our tasks and it will benefit our country and people in the future.”

Both the astronauts completed 14 pioneering experiments in microgravity, three of which were dedicated to educational and motivational purposes with the participation of 12,000 Saudi students in 47 different locations across the Kingdom.

With them, the craft returned to Earth with a cargo including NASA hardware and data from over 20 different experiments.

The capsule retrieve from the sea. (SpaceX)

The flight launched on May 21 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and docked with the station on May 22.

The Axiom 2 mission, which launched on May 21, was the latest in a series of space expeditions bankrolled by private investment capital and wealthy passengers rather than by taxpayer dollars as NASA seeks to expand commercial access to low-Earth orbit.
Axiom, which sent its first four-member astronaut team to ISS in April 2022, also has signed a contract with the U.S. space agency to build the first commercial addition to the orbiting laboratory.
California-based SpaceX, founded by Twitter owner and Tesla Inc electric carmaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the Falcon 9 rocket and crew capsule that ferried Axiom’s team to and from orbit and controlled the flight.
NASA furnished the launch site at its Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and assumed responsibility for the Axiom crew during their stay aboard the space station, orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. 

(With agencies)

Saudi Arabia, Brazil sign MoU on aviation cooperation

Updated 25 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, Brazil sign MoU on aviation cooperation

  • Agreement signed during conference in Rio de Janeiro to highlight investment opportunities in aviation sector
  • ‘The two countries have a long history of cooperation and partnerships in various fields’: GACA president

SAO PAULO: The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation and Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the field of civil aviation during a conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The conference highlighted investment opportunities in the aviation sector. The two countries intend to reinforce cooperation to exchange knowledge, aiming to improve the passenger experience in air transport, among other goals.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that the partnership fulfills the objectives of the National Aviation Strategy, which seeks to make the Kingdom a global aviation hub.

With this partnership, Brazil can provide expertise in infrastructure projects and other areas of the Saudi aviation sector.

“By participating in the event, the Kingdom seeks to prove its global leadership in the field of aviation and its readiness to expand and strengthen cooperation with Brazil,” the SPA said.

The MoU includes information exchanges such as reports, service quality indicators and passenger satisfaction surveys related to practices adopted in Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

The agreement also includes the exchange of information, standardized procedures for passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility, and training courses and workshops focusing on improving the passenger experience. The MoU will be implemented according to the laws and regulations of both countries.

GACA President Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej, who attended the conference’s opening ceremony, said the Kingdom values relationships built on trust and hard work.

“Despite the long distance between Saudi Arabia and Brazil, the two countries have a long history of cooperation and partnerships in various fields,” he added.

Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in its aviation sector to boost tourism by 2030, targeting 330 million passengers by the end of the decade.

Saudi pavilion at Expo 2023 Doha highlighting Kingdom’s ‘natural richness’

Updated 59 min 31 sec ago

Saudi pavilion at Expo 2023 Doha highlighting Kingdom’s ‘natural richness’

MAKKAH: The Saudi pavilion at the Expo 2023 Doha Horticultural Exhibition is shining the spotlight on the Kingdom’s ‘natural richness,’ drawing visitors from around the world, the site’s supervisor has told Arab News.

Delegations and visitors headed to the Qatari capital for the opening of the exhibition, which is held under the slogan “Green Desert, Better Environment.”

Held from Oct. 2 to March 28 next year, the event showcases the latest innovations in horticulture and environmental sustainability, aiming to inspire the international community to adopt solutions to combat desertification through four axes: Modern agriculture, technology and innovation, environmental awareness, and sustainability.



Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and other leaders and heads of state visited the Kingdom’s pavilion at the opening, and were received by Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, Saudi minister of environment, water and agriculture.

The leaders listened to an explanation on the Kingdom’s presence at the event from the general supervisor of the Kingdom’s pavilion, Saleh bin Dakhil, who reviewed the work of green environmental initiatives, the contributions of renewable energy, and investment in major environmentally friendly projects.



Bin Dakhil, who is also general manager of corporate communication and media, and official spokesperson at the ministry, told Arab News that the Saudi site at the expo is the second largest after Qatar’s host pavilion.

He said: “The pavilion and its annexes were designed to suit the main themes of the event, creating a unique journey for visitors. The pavilion is full of various stations through which technology and picturesque nature harmonize and give visitors the opportunity to learn about huge national projects and effective initiatives that employ innovative solutions to create a sustainable future for the whole world, with the participation of a number of government and private agencies.”

Bin Dakhil added: “The pavilion begins through three main entrances. The first of which is the welcome area, which reflects the human richness and the cultural and natural components of the Kingdom, to explore the spirit of the Kingdom, the richness of its land, and the diversity of its resources.

“After that comes the external garden, which surrounds the pavilion and showcases the topography and geography of the Kingdom, and the ancient resources it contains. Then comes the internal garden, which showcases the present environment in the Kingdom through its current and future projects and initiatives.”

He said that visitors were warmly received to the pavilion through folklore performances from Jazan, such as the traditional Ardah dance.

Bin Dakhil added that the Kingdom’s pavilion includes central areas, most notably the “Our Nature” zone, which highlights the natural landscapes and terrain of the Kingdom.

The “Our Initiatives” area details the most prominent initiatives and projects in Saudi Arabia, while the “Our Prosperity” area highlights the role of Saudi Vision 2030 in shaping the future of the Kingdom by encouraging environmental prosperity.

“There is also an interactive area that gives visitors an inspiring experience about the ecosystem,” Bin Dakhil added.

The pavilion is decorated with unique tree species that reflect the variety of flora in the Kingdom, such as sidr, lavender, basil, gray ghaf and more.

Jeddah governor meets Gambian consul general

Updated 04 October 2023

Jeddah governor meets Gambian consul general

Jeddah Governor Prince Saud bin Abdullah bin Jalawi on Sunday met the Consul General of Gambia Abdullah Conte in the Red Sea port city.

At a separate meeting, in Riyadh, Saudi Deputy Minister for International Multilateral Affairs Abdulrahman Al-Rassi received the Malaysian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Datuk Wan Zaidi Wan Abdullah.

During the two meetings, all sides discussed regional and international issues of mutual concern and ways to further strengthen relations.

Tourism boom for Saudi Arabia with 58% growth in arrivals in 2023, ranks 2nd globally

Updated 04 October 2023

Tourism boom for Saudi Arabia with 58% growth in arrivals in 2023, ranks 2nd globally

  • Riyadh hosted World Tourism Day on Sept. 27-28, reflecting the Kingdom’s commitment to the global tourism sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been ranked second globally in terms of tourist arrivals during the first seven months of 2023, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The Kingdom saw a 58 percent growth in tourist numbers up to the end of July, according to the Ministry of Tourism, compared to the same period in 2019.

The data was sourced last month from the UN World Tourism Organization and came from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

Riyadh hosted World Tourism Day on Sept. 27-28, reflecting the Kingdom’s commitment to the global tourism sector.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that the achievement “would not have been possible without the support of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and the Crown Prince,” the SPA reported.

Al-Khateeb added that the ranking strengthened the country’s status as a global tourist destination and that the substantial rise in arrivals reflected the confidence travelers had in the variety and quality of tourism options available within the Kingdom.

Saudi nomad publishes book on 400-day adventure around the world

Updated 03 October 2023

Saudi nomad publishes book on 400-day adventure around the world

RIYADH: In a world of routine and conformity, it takes a free spirit to break away from the chains of convention and embark on a journey of self-discovery. Rakan Al-Mogbil, a nomad from Saudi Arabia, is one such individual who chose to abandon the comfort of his settled life and explore the world in 400 days.

Al-Mogbil, who is showcasing his first book “Lost on the Map” at the Riyadh International Book Fair, told Arab News: “Being here is amazing because I get to tell my story at one the biggest book fairs in the Middle East.”

Speaking about the premise of his book, he said: “’Lost on the Map’ is a true story about how I sold my car and (left) everything behind just to travel and explore the world. I traveled more than 400 days in a row without coming back to my country and visited more than nine countries.”

Al-Mogbil said that leaving behind his family, job and possessions was challenging — and with a mere $800 monthly budget. Despite the obstacles, Al-Mogbil embraced a life of constant movement, seeking to unravel the mysteries of different cultures and landscapes.

“I did a lot of hitchhiking between countries. I traveled 1,500 km from Bangkok in Thailand to Malaysia with only hitchhiking.”

Being on a tight budget, Al-Mogbil did not use any costly means of transport, such as busses, rental cars or airplanes.

His journey included some bumps along the way: “Some people in some countries threatened me. I’m not going to mention more, but you’re going to find out in the book.”

Through encounters during his travels, he has come to recognize the common thread that binds humanity despite any superficial differences. “I always say travel for the people, not the places, because people will leave, but the places will remain,” he said.

“One of the stories is about my time in Mexico where I lived on a ranch for three months and found a lot of similarities between Mexican and Arab cultures.”

He said that Mexicans’ hospitality and kindness is similar to Arabs.

Al-Mogbil discovered his love for traveling by chance: “After I traveled to South Africa to study English, I fell in love with traveling just as COVID-19 hit and I had to go back home to Saudi Arabia.”

However, once the travel restrictions eased, he drew up a plan: “I then decided that I was going to quit my job, sell my car, and just continue exploring because there are always places in the world to see.”

He said that one day he hopes to translate his book into other languages such as English and Spanish.