Saudi astronauts complete first scientific experiments in space

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Saudi Arabia’s two astronauts Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi and their fellow crew from the Axiom 2 space mission executed their first full day of science operations and media outreach on Wednesday.

They began sharing updates on their efforts on the International Space Station (ISS) on their social media accounts.

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Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) Mission specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, representing Saudi Arabia, arrive on the International Space Station orbiting Earth May 22, 2023 in a still image from video.
Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) Mission specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, representing Saudi Arabia, arrive on the International Space Station orbiting Earth May 22, 2023 in a still image from video.

Barnawi – the first Saudi woman in space and the first Arab woman on board ISS – began conducting experiments into a wide range of nanomaterial therapeutic applications, such as drug delivery, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine.

Axiom – the company behind the private spaceflight – said Barnawi completed the experiment, producing the first DNA Nanomaterials on the ISS.

Al-Qarni and Barnawi also performed a test run of the DreamUp Nanoracks Space Kite payload, which will demonstrate the aerodynamic behavior of kites in microgravity.

DreamUp provides space-based educational programs to learners and educators around the globe. During the Ax-2 mission, DreamUp, in collaboration with the Saudi Space Commission and Nanoracks, will fly three experiments to be conducted in microgravity to educate students.

These visual experiments will demonstrate differences in fluid behavior on Earth and in microgravity, explore the aerodynamic behavior of different kite shapes on the ISS, and showcase the effects of the external environment of space on the available modes of heat transfer.

Al-Qarni and Barnawi also talked to students in Saudi Arabia via Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, known as the ARISS program, as part of a larger effort to engage students across the nation, with the Saudi Space Commission later posting various photos of the event on their social media accounts.

Al-Qarni and Barnawi also talked to students in Saudi Arabia via Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, known as the ARISS program, as part of a larger effort to engage students across the nation. (Supplied: SSC)
Al-Qarni and Barnawi also talked to students in Saudi Arabia via Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, known as the ARISS program, as part of a larger effort to engage students across the nation. (Supplied: SSC)

During their stay on ISS, the astronauts will engage with thousands of students across Saudi Arabia – tuning in from home and 47 official event viewing sites – who will participate in ground-based experiments on Earth to simulate the experiments being done on ISS.

Fellow Axiom 2 crew members – Americans Peggy Whitson, the commander of the trip, and pilot John Shoffner – worked on the Stellar Stem Cells project that will grow stem cells on the ISS to see whether microgravity has any impact on the way the cells divide.

Studying stem cells in space could address the challenges that currently limit using these cells as therapies in regenerative medicine.

The four-strong Ax-2 crew also collected samples for the Nebula Human Research investigation. This is part of a portfolio of projects that will look at how humans adapt and respond to spaceflight to better understand human physiology in microgravity, which will contribute to an understanding of how to keep humans healthy in space.

The Ax-2 crew also performed an exercise session in support of the ‘Skinsuit’ experiment. The Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit is an intravehicular activity suit for astronauts that has been developed to simulate some of the effects of Earth’s gravity by providing vertical load on the body, from the shoulders to the feet.

The Skinsuit is a potential spaceflight countermeasure which aims to mitigate physiological effects of microgravity, including spinal elongation and muscle atrophy.

This low-mass and low-volume wearable system is intended to supplement exercise during future missions to the Moon and Mars and to further attenuate microgravity-induced physiological effects in future low Earth orbit mission scenarios.

The Ax-2 crew also did a test event with ICE Cubes, a platform used during the mission to interact in real-time with the media, students, and the public. The Ax-2 crew completed the first of many recordings that will be sent to the ground for use in STEAM outreach, social media, and commercial activities.

Barnawi and al-Qarni are on the orbiting outpost for an eight-day private trip, with a return to Earth expected on May 30.

Read more:

‘Lift off’: Saudi astronauts – including Arab world’s first female – blast into space

Exclusive: Saudi astronauts mark new era for Saudi Arabia’s intergalactic ambitions

Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni send first greetings from space

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