RIYADH — Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni concluded their 10-day historic mission on the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, and began their journey back to Earth.
The Saudi Space Commission (SSC) posted a video clip on Twitter, showing their last moments at the end of a series of scientific experiments.
On Monday, Barnawi and Al Qarni and their American colleagues, Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, who make up the four-person crew dubbed the Axiom-2 mission, finished all their science and media outreach events and started packing the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for their return home.
The SpaceX Dragon began the return journey, which takes about 12 hours before reaching the water, announcing the end of the Ax-2 space mission launched by Saudi Arabia on May 22 as the first Saudi scientific mission toward space.
The spacecraft is returning to Earth with more than 300 pounds of cargo and important data that will impact understanding of human physiology on Earth and on-orbit.
The Dragon spacecraft, the first spacecraft to automatically transport humans outside Earth, began its separation journey from ISS on Tuesday, and it carried out several maneuvers until it entered the atmosphere, and thus is set to land off the coast of Florida early Wednesday morning.
NASA, SpaceX and Axiom Space will live-stream the astronauts’ departure on their websites and social media channels. The NASA broadcast will begin at 5 p.m. on Tuesday GST, when the closure of the Dragon spacecraft's hatch will take place.
Axiom said all conditions including weather are a go for undocking. The AX-2 crew will have completed approximately 10 days in space by the conclusion of their mission.
Barnawi, who became the first Arab woman to go on a space mission when she launched with her colleague Al Qarni on a trip to the orbital outpost last Monday, delivered a heartfelt speech from space on Monday, saying “every story comes to an end.”
The research laboratory technician added: “This is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region.”
As the AX-2 crew prepares to depart from the space station, the AX-2 astronauts joined the Expedition 69 crew members — who are there for a six-month mission — for a joint farewell ceremony on Monday.
During the event, the AX-2 crew shared words of appreciation and stories about their experience on the space station, and the ISS crew had an opportunity to celebrate the historic AX-2 mission.
During a live-stream of the event, Al Qarni, a fighter pilot, shared his appreciation for his fellow colleagues onboard ISS, describing them as “an amazing inspiration.”
On her part, Barnawi bade farewell to her colleagues at the end of her scientific mission, and sent a touching message of thanks, filled with tears of joy, to the crew members for their cooperation and support for the mission.
During their time on the orbiting laboratory, the AX-2 astronauts successfully executed over 20 STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) outreach engagements and more than 20 research studies in microgravity, as well as eight media events.
On Monday, Al Qarni and Barnawi performed their final STEAM outreach event demonstrating heat transfer in space. During this event, Barnawi and Al Qarni monitored the heat transfer of a wire as it heated and cooled.
The astronauts conducted 14 pioneering scientific experiments as part of their scientific mission, which included six experiments in the brain and nervous system, four experiments in immune cells, and an experiment in water seeding technology.
Barnawi and Al Qarni arrived at the space station on May 22 as part of the private AX-2 mission launched by Axiom Space.
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