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Space station welcomes visitors including Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut

Saudi Arabia’s government is picking up the multimillion-dollar tab for stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni.
Saudi Arabia’s government is picking up the multimillion-dollar tab for stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni. Saudi Arabia’s government is picking up the multimillion-dollar tab for stem cell researcher Rayyanah Barnawi and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni.

The International Space Station has rolled out the welcome mat for two Saudi visitors, including the kingdom’s first female astronaut.

SpaceX’s chartered flight arrived at the orbiting lab less than 16 hours after blasting off from Florida.

The four guests will spend just over a week there, before returning to Earth in their capsule.

The 270-mile-high docking puts the space station population at 11, representing not only Saudi Arabia and the US, but the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon capsule and a crew of four private astronauts, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon capsule and a crew of four private astronauts, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon capsule and a crew of four private astronauts, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida (John Raoux/AP)

“This shows how space brings everyone together,” said Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher.

She said: “I’m going to live this experience to the max.”

Saudi fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni dedicated the visit to everyone back home.

He said: “This mission is not just for me and Rayyanah. This mission is also for the people with ambition and dreams.”

The Saudi government is picking up the multimillion-dollar tab for both of them.

John Shoffner, a businessman from Knoxville, Tennessee, who started a car racing team, is paying his own way.

Retired Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson is their chaperone.

She now works for Axiom Space, the Houston company that organised the 10-day trip, its second to the space station.

The company cited ticket prices of 55 million dollars (£44 million) each for last year’s private trip by three businessmen, but will not say how much the latest seats cost.

Only one other Saudi has flown before in space, a prince who rode on Nasa’s shuttle Discovery in 1985.