CHICAGO: The 10-day trip of two Saudi astronauts to the International Space Station this week is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan and the goal to launch the country’s own space missions, the nation’s US Embassy spokesman Fahad Nazer said Wednesday.
Nazer, during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, said Saudis were “very proud” of the achievements of Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Saudi astronaut, and her colleague Ali Alqarni, who are part of a growing Saudi Space Commission.
Barnawi and Alqarni were following in the footsteps of Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim to travel to outer space as a member of the weeklong Space Shuttle Discovery mission which launched on June 17, 1985.
“The astronauts were actually able to conduct some experiments along with 12,000 students in Saudi Arabia. So, they had a livestream with them, a webchat, and they conducted basic experiments with the students. But obviously part of the mission, part of the purpose of space exploration is that we are trying to encourage young Saudi men and women students and to pique their interests in science and technology and mathematics and physics, and we are hoping that we achieved some of these goals in addition to the goals of the mission itself,” Nazer explained.
“The Kingdom does have its own Saudi Space Commission. It has a pretty rigorous program of research but also it has a program for selecting and training astronauts. So, we believe that space exploration is very much consistent with our investments in science, technology and innovations that is a part of our Vision 2030. For the foreseeable future we will continue to partner with NASA and Axiom and other organizations. But … it is ultimately a matter of time that we will launch our own space missions.”
Barnawi and Alqarni lifted off in the Axiom 2, or AX-2, from Houston’s Axiom Space Center on May 21 for the ISS, the second private mission to the orbiting outpost, and returned in the SpaceX Capsule, Crew Dragon spacecraft Freedom, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida, minutes before midnight Tuesday May 30. The first all-civilian space mission was in April 2022.
“As you know Saudi Arabia is undergoing a remarkable transformation known as Vision 2030. The vision is a package of economic and social reforms that has a number of objectives. One of them, or some of them include improving healthcare, improving (the) education system, the transportation system and also combatting climate change among many objectives.
“So (we have) a number of these objectives. We believe that the keys to achieving them is through investing in science, technology and innovation, and certainly our interests in space exploration is very consistent with these goals. In fact our interest in space exploration goes back decades. Back in 1985 His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab and first Muslim to go into space when he joined the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery,” Nazer told Arab News during the radio interview.
“More recently, obviously, we had two Saudi astronauts including the first woman ever, Rayyanah Barnawi, and her colleague Ali Alqarni, who went on this 10-day mission to the International Space Station … this was part of the Axiom Space Mission. They were in space for approximately 10 days.
“They conducted 14 different research experiments in different scientific fields including cloud seeding. Six other experiments, is my understanding, (were) focused on the brain and the nervous system and four others focused on the immune system. And like you said they just came back to Earth earlier this morning. They returned to Houston Airport. So, this was a great moment for our space program and a great moment for the Kingdom. We are proud of them.”
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying Barnawi and Alqarni parachuted down into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, after a 12-hour return flight and blazing reentry through Earth’s atmosphere.
Nazer said Saudis around the world were excited and proud of the two astronauts and what they accomplished during the mission.
“People back in the Kingdom were essentially able to see almost every move that the astronauts made from the launch to the return. The astronauts like I said, did a few webchats and livestreams with the Saudi students. Much of their experience was captured on camera,” Nazer said.
“They (the astronauts) shared everything, from what they ate to their (living) quarters including some of the experiments. So, in that sense I think it was certainly very different than when his royal highness went to space back in 1985. But this was a very proud moment for us. I think it was an indication of the commitment of our leadership to science and technology and innovation. And we are certainly hoping it will encourage a lot of young Saudi men and women to go into, whether it is space exploration or other scientific fields going forward.”
According to its website, Vision 2030 was launched under the leadership of King Salman, as “a roadmap” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to harness the strengths God bestowed upon us — our strategic position, investment power and place at the center of (the) Arab and Islamic worlds. The full attention of the Kingdom, and our leadership, is on harnessing our potential to achieve our ambitions.”
Nazer’s comments were made during an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show broadcast Wednesday May 31 live in Detroit and Washington D.C. on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.