On Tuesday, Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni concluded their groundbreaking mission as they departed from the International Space Station (ISS). Their departure marked the end of a mission that will be remembered as a significant milestone in history.
Shortlt after 7pm UAE time, the two astronauts undocked from ISS and began a 12-hour ride back to Earth, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida expected on Wednesday at 7.10am.
The day previously, Barnawi – who became the first Arab woman to go on a space mission when she launched with her colleague al-Qarni on a trip to the orbital outpost last Monday – delivered a heartfelt speech from space on Monday, saying “every story comes to an end.”
The research laboratory technician added: “This is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region.”
On Monday, the two Saudi citizens and their American colleagues, Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner – who make up the four-person crew dubbed the Axiom-2 mission – finished up all science and media outreach events and started packing the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for their return home.
Axiom Space, which led the all-private astronaut mission to ISS, said, after working in the life sciences glovebox for six days in a row, Barnawi utilized the glovebox one last time for the DNA Nano Therapeutics study, producing the final set of DNA-inspired Janus base nanomaterials on-orbit.
In addition, the Ax-2 crew members participated in a SpaceX briefing about undocking and the weather conditions at the splashdown sites.
NASA, SpaceX and Axiom Space live-streamed the astronauts’ departure on their websites and social media channels.
By splashdown, the Ax-2 crew will have completed approximately 10 days in space by the conclusion of their mission.
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.
The SpaceX Dragon will return 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.
On Monday, al-Qarni and Barnawi performed their final STEAM outreach event demonstrating heat transfer in space. During this event, Barnawi and al-Qarni monitored the heat transfer of a wire as it heated and cooled.
Students then compared how heat transfer on the ISS differs from control experiments performed on Earth.
The Ax-2 astronauts joined the Expedition 69 crew members – who are there for a six-month mission – for a joint farewell ceremony on Monday. During the event, the Ax-2 crew shared words of appreciation and stories about their experience on the space station, and the ISS crew had an opportunity to celebrate the historic Ax-2 mission.
During a live-stream of the event, al-Qarni, a fighter pilot, shared his appreciation for his fellow colleagues onboard ISS, describing them as “an amazing inspiration.”
Last week the Saudi Space Commission revealed to Al Arabiya English that the mission was the launch pad for the Kingdom’s future ambitions in space.
Dr. Haithem Altwaijri, an advisor to the Saudi Space Commission, said: “This (ISS) mission is just the starting point with the (space) ambitions Saudi Arabia has.”
“We are not looking at just a one-time mission, we’re looking at a very long-term program where hopefully, within the future, you’ll see Saudi having missions that not only are to ISS but also to lunar and hopefully beyond.”
He also likened Barnawi to Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova – a Russian engineer and the first woman ever to fly in space on 16 June 1963 – saying: “Rayyanah…she is our Valentina of the Arab World.”