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Saudi Arabia to Send First Female Astronaut to Space Station as Part of Second Axiom Mission

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
February 12, 2023
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Saudi Arabia to Send First Female Astronaut to Space Station as Part of Second Axiom Mission
Saudi astronauts Mariam Fardous, Ali AlQarni, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlGamdi. (Credit: Saudi Press Agency)

Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni (center) are the prime astronauts for the Ax-2 mission with Mariam Fardous (left) and Ali AlGhamdi (right) as backups. (Credit: Saudi Press Agency)

Rayyanah Barnawi will make history as the first Saudi woman to travel to space when she joins countryman Ali AlQarni as part of Axiom Space’s second private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year, the Saudi Press Agency announced on Sunday.

Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will command the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft with American businessman and race car driver John Shoffner as pilot. Barnawi and AlQarni will serve as mission specialists during 12-day Ax-2 flight, which is scheduled for the second quarter of the year.

“This aims to empower national capabilities in human spaceflight geared towards serving humanity and benefiting from the promising opportunities offered by the space industry, as well as contributing to scientific research in many aspects such as health, sustainability, and space technology,” the press agency said.

Barnawi is a research laboratory technician at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh with nine years of experience in cancer stem cell research. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Otago, and a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from Alfaisal University.

AlQarni is a captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force where he pilots F-15SA fighter planes. He has logged 2,387 hours in the air and holds a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical sciences from King Faisal Air Academy.

Mariam Fardous and Ali AlGhamdi are the backup Saudi astronauts for the mission.

Fardous is a Saudi epidemiologist with 13 years of experience in the medical field. She hold’s a bachelor’s degrees in medicine and surgery, a master’s degree in epidemiology and biostatistician, and a diploma in business administration.

AlGhamdi is a captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force where he flies Typhoon jet. He has eleven years of experience flying fighter aircraft and has accumulated 2,285 hours in the air. He has a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical sciences from the King Faisal Air Academy.

Barnawi and AlQarni will become the second and third Saudis to fly to space. Sultan bin Salman Al Saud flew a week-long mission aboard the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in June 1985.

Barnawi and AlQarni will also be the fifth and sixth Arab astronauts to fly to space. The list includes:

  • Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris, who spent eight days in space during a visit to the Soviet space station Mir in July 1987,
  • Hazza Al Mansouri of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who flew to ISS aboard Russia’s Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft during an eight-day mission in September 2019, and
  • UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Feb. 26 for a six-month stay on ISS.

It will be the second commercial mission launched to ISS by Houston-based Axiom Space. Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria commanded a 17-day long mission in April 2022. Paying customers included American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe.

Axiom Space has two other missions planned. Ax-3 is expected to fly late this year and include two Turkish astronauts. The flight could be commanded by Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei, who Axiom Space has named as a professional astronaut.

Ax-4 will include the winner of the Space Hero television reality show and possibly a Hungarian astronaut.