Saudi astronauts splashdown on Earth after space mission
Saudi astronauts Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi – the first Arab woman ever sent into orbit – splashed down on Earth safely Wednesday after a 12-hour journey, capping an eight-day research mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The SpaceX Crew Dragon vessel carrying the astronauts, undocked from ISS on Tuesday to begin its return flight. The capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Florida, shortly after 7 a.m. UAE time following a re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. Barnawi was seen leaving the vessel shortly afetr 7:50 a.m. with the help of onground crew.
She gave a smile and waved to cameras as she was led away from the vessel. She was shortly followed by al-Qarni who was the last to leave the vessel.
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Barnawi – who is the first Arab woman to go on a space mission – and her colleague al-Qarni are the first Saudi astronauts to go to space in nearly 40 years, after Prince Sultan bin Salman was launched on NASA’s Space Shuttle in 1985.
The four-man crew – which included American colleagues, Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner – who make up the four-person crew dubbed the Axiom-2 mission – re-entered the planet’s atmosphere at about 7 a.m. Two parachutes were then deployed to help slow down the Dragon capsule. The splashdown happened at about 7:04 a.m.
A SpaceX recovery boat was then deployed to the vessel to unlock the hatch and retrieve the crew.
The Axiom 2 crew was led by 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.
“That was a phenomenal ride. We really enjoyed all of it,” Whitson radioed to mission controllers moments after splashdown.
Prior to splashdown, Nitrogen was flooded into the cabin to keep the astronauts cool during the re-entry burn.
A NASA live feed confirmed that the crew had been “training extensively” for the splashdown and their post-space rehabilitation back on Earth.
“They are returning from ten days from space…their bodies are going to feel very different.”
The Ax-2 crew will have completed approximately 10 days in space by the conclusion of their mission. During their time on the ISS, the astronauts orbited earth 126 times.
During their time on the orbiting laboratory, the Ax-2 astronauts successfully executed over 20 STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) outreach engagements and more than 20 research studies in microgravity, as well as eight media events.
During their mission, the Saudi astronauts had joined fellow Arab astronaut – the UAE’s Sultan al-Neyadi – currently on the ISS for a six-month mission – the Arab world’s first long duration space mission. It marked the first time astronauts from two Arab countries have met onboard the ISS.
On Tuesday, as Barnawi and al-Qarni left the orbital outpost, al-Neyadi posted a heartfelt tribute to his fellow Arab astronauts, saying on Twitter: “It was a pleasure working with all of you and we have made great memories. @AstroAli11 and @Astro_Rayyanah, I will surely miss speaking Arabic aboard the ISS. Adieu for now, and may our paths cross again.”
The SpaceX Dragon returned to Earth with more than 300 pounds of cargo and important data that will impact understanding of human physiology on Earth and on-orbit, as well as establish the utility of novel technologies that could be used for future human spaceflight pursuits and benefit humankind on Earth.
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