'A dream come true': Saudi Arabia's first female astronaut launches into space

The four private astronauts took off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Sunday evening. Credit: AP

Saudi Arabia’s first astronauts in decades, including the nation's first female astronaut, rocketed towards the International Space Station on a chartered multimillion-dollar flight on Sunday.

SpaceX launched the ticket-holding crew, led by a retired Nasa astronaut now working for the company that arranged the trip.

The four should reach the space station in their capsule on Monday morning. They’ll spend just over a week there before returning home with a splashdown off the Florida coast.

Sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the kingdom to go to space.

Saudi Arabian astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi waves to family and friends as she arrives at the Kennedy Space Centre on Sunday Credit: AP

She was joined by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force.

They’re the first from their country to ride a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985.

“This is a dream come true for everyone,” Barnawi said before the flight.

“Just being able to understand that this is possible. If me and Ali can do it, then they can do it, too.”

The crew of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Credit: AP

Also onboard are Pilot John Shoffner, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team that competes in Europe, and Commander Peggy Whitson, the station’s first female commander who holds the US record for most accumulated time in space: 665 days and counting.

It’s the second private flight to the space station organised by Houston-based Axiom Space.

The first was last year by three businessmen, with another retired Nasa astronaut.

The company plans to start adding its own rooms to the station in another few years, eventually removing them to form a stand-alone outpost available for hire. Axiom won’t say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia are paying for the planned 10-day mission.

The company had previously cited a ticket price of $55 (£44) million each.

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