spaceSpace and Physics

Rayyanah Barnawi Is Officially The 600th Person To Orbit Earth

Barnawi is also the first Saudi woman and the first Arab woman to go to space.


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

Alfredo (he/him) has a PhD in Astrophysics on galaxy evolution and a Master's in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces.

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

A photograph of Barnawi smiling. She is a brown woman with short black sleek hair

Rayyanah Barnawi in her official astronaut portrait.

Image courtesy of Vytal/Chris Zuponcic © Axiom Space

Axiom Space has launched its second space mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This is the third private mission to the ISS and includes among others Rayyanah Barnawi, a biomedical researcher and also the Saudi Space Commission's first female astronaut. And now she’s is also the 600th person to orbit the Earth.

Axiom-2 sees former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson commanding the mission, together with pilot John Shoffner, and Ali AlQarni – also of the Saudi Space Commission – being the first mission specialist. Shoffner and AlQarni are also on their first flights, so in order they are the 598th and 599th people to orbit Earth. Barnawi, being mission specialist number 2, gets the round number.


Now, it is important to stress that we are talking about going around the planet. If you want the tally for all the people who have crossed the Kármán line – the arbitrary boundary between Earth and space at 100 kilometers (61 miles) – then you need to add the 32 people who flew on board Blue Origin’s New Shepard. Those flights were suborbital, taking people up into space and then straight back down.

“I never thought that I will ever be going to space but at the same time, it feels like a dream come true! It's an overwhelming feeling, of course,” Barnawi said ahead of the launch in a video. “It honestly feels like I am representing all Saudis' ambitions. All females' and all researchers' as well! It's a big honor to be able to go to space and at the same time do the things that you love the most.”

The Axiom-2 mission is 12 days long, but it is packed with research projects. Some of them focus on rare atmospheric phenomena, such as sprites and jets. Others are on the astronauts themselves, like testing suits that mitigate the effect of microgravity. But there are also several experiments in the field of life sciences, such as the ones on the effect of microgravity on stem cells and cancer. Those are Barnawi's areas of specialization. After her master's, she worked for nine years on cancer stem cell research at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre.


“Rayyanah is an amazing scientist. She's done stem cell research and breast cancer research and we are really excited to have her on board the space station doing some of the same types of things in space,” Commander Whitson said.

Axiom-2 is expected to come back down to Earth in early June, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

[H/T: Collect Space]  


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