Saudi astronauts Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, with Barnawi being the first Arab woman sent into orbit, safely splashed down on Earth after a 12-hour journey, concluding their eight-day research mission on the International Space Station (ISS).
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying the astronauts, undocked from the ISS on Tuesday to commence its return flight. After re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Florida, around 7 a.m. UAE time. Barnawi disembarked from the vessel at approximately 7:50 a.m., followed by al-Qarni. Barnawi’s historic mission marks the first time an Arab woman has ventured into space, while al-Qarni and Barnawi are the first Saudi astronauts in almost four decades since Prince Sultan bin Salman’s NASA Space Shuttle launch in 1985.
The Axiom-2 mission comprised a four-person crew, including American astronauts Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner. After re-entry at around 7 a.m., two parachutes were deployed to slow down the Dragon capsule, which eventually splashed down at approximately 7:04 a.m. A SpaceX recovery boat was dispatched to the vessel to open the hatch and retrieve the crew. Leading the Axiom-2 crew was astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for the most time spent in orbit, accumulating 665 days over three long-duration missions to the ISS.
Before splashdown, nitrogen was flooded into the cabin to maintain a cool temperature during the re-entry burn. The crew had undergone extensive training for the splashdown and subsequent rehabilitation upon returning to Earth. Having spent approximately ten days in space, the Ax-2 crew completed numerous STEAM outreach engagements, research studies in microgravity, and media events during their time on the ISS. Notably, the Saudi astronauts had the opportunity to meet the UAE’s Sultan al-Neyadi, the Arab world’s first long-duration space mission astronaut, who is currently on a six-month mission on the ISS.
Safe travels #Ax2 crew 👨🏽🚀👩🏽🚀
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 🤍 pic.twitter.com/khM2wQvLzu
— Sultan AlNeyadi (@Astro_Alneyadi) May 30, 2023
As Barnawi and al-Qarni departed the ISS, al-Neyadi expressed his admiration for his fellow Arab astronauts on Twitter, stating that it was a pleasure working with them and highlighting the unique experience of conversing in Arabic aboard the ISS. The SpaceX Dragon capsule brought back over 300 pounds of cargo and vital data, contributing to the understanding of human physiology on Earth and in space, as well as testing novel technologies for future human spaceflight endeavors that can benefit humanity on Earth