SpaceX’s Paying Customers Now Living in Space Station, Including Saudi Arabia’s 1st Female Astronaut

A SpaceX rocket successfully delivered a crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station Monday. 

The charted flight carrying a former NASA astronaut and three paying customers, launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday. Two of the guests are from Saudi Arabia, including the kingdom’s first female astronaut.

Sixteen hours later, the crew of the Dragon capsule named Freedom arrived at the orbiting station for a week-long stay before returning to Earth. 

The mission to the Space Station is known as Axiom Mission 2. It’s the second-ever private mission to the station and the first private space mission with a female commander.

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Freedom’s 270-mile-high docking puts the Space Station population at 11, representing not only Saudi Arabia and the U.S. but the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

UAE’s astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi greeted the newcomers with dates, a traditional Arab welcome.

“This shows how space brings everyone together,” said Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher. “I’m going to live this experience to the max.”

Saudi fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni dedicated the visit to everyone back home. “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 Knoxville, Tennessee, businessman who started a sports car racing team, is paying his own way. Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson now works for Axiom Space, the Houston company that organized the 10-day trip – its second to the space station. She’s the mission commander and will serve as the visitors’ chaperone during their time at the station. 

The company cited ticket prices of $55 million each for last year’s private trip by three businessmen, but won’t 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.