Astronaut and scientist Rayyanah Barnawi is making history as the first Saudi female astronaut and the first Arab woman to set off to the International Space Station (ISS).

On Sunday evening, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched four private astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to ISS on Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) the world’s second all-private astronaut mission, Ax-2 said in a statement.

The spacecraft is commanded by Peggy Whitson, former NASA Chief Astronaut, who becomes first female to lead a private space mission. Also on board are Saudi mission specialists Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Alqarni from the Saudi Space Commission (SSC) both of whom are members of the inaugural Saudi national astronaut class.

Jeddah-born Barnawi is biomedical researcher in cancer stem-cell research. During the Ax-2 mission, she will be focus on stem cell and breast cancer research.

Alqarni, who is the second Saudi male astronaut in space, serves with the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is set to dock to the space-facing port of the ISS Harmony module on Monday.

Ax-2 is the second of several proposed Axiom Space missions to the ISS, and a critical first step along the journey toward Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station, the company said. 

(Writing by Brinda Darasha; editing by Daniel Luiz)