SpaceX launching Saudi astronauts on private flight to space station

SpaceX’s next private flight to the International Space Station is awaiting takeoff

ByMARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer

CORRECTS NAME TO WHITSON NOT WHITMAN The crew of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft, from left, Saudi Arabian astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi, commandeer Peggy Whitson, pilot John Shoffner and Saudi Arabian astronaut Ali al-Qarni arrive at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., before their launch to the International Space Station, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s next private flight to the International Space Station awaited takeoff Sunday, weather and rocket permitting.

The passengers include Saudi Arabia’s first astronauts in decades, as well as a Tennessee businessman who started his own sports car racing team. They’ll be led by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that arranged the 10-day trip.

It’s the second charter flight organized by Houston-based Axiom Space. The company would not say how much the latest tickets cost; it previously cited per-seat prices of $55 million.

With its Falcon rocket already on the pad, SpaceX targeted a liftoff late Sunday afternoon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It’s the same spot where Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut, a prince, soared in 1985.

Representing the Saudi Arabian government this time are Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher set to become the kingdom’s first woman in space, and Royal Saudi Air Force fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni.

Rounding out the crew: John Shoffner, the racecar buff; and Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for most accumulated time in space at 665 days.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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