The astronaut became the first Arab woman to go on a space mission. Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi delivered an emotional farewell speech on the International Space Station on Monday, fighting back tears as she spoke about “a new era for Saudi Arabia and the region”.
Ms Barnawi, 33, a research scientist, became the first Arab woman to go on a space mission when she launched with her colleague Ali Al Qarni, 31, on an eight-day trip to the orbiting outpost last Monday. The two Saudi citizens and their American colleagues, Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, will leave the station on Tuesday.
“Every story comes to an end. This is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region,” Ms Barnawi said. “So, I’d just like to thank everyone here who helped us.”
Ms Barnawi and Mr Al Qarni were part of the first mission under the kingdom’s new astronaut programme, with the Saudi Space Commission hoping that they will be able to launch more astronauts in the coming years, including for long-duration trips.
They were also the first Saudis to go to space in about 40 years, after Prince Sultan bin Salman’s trip on-board a Nasa space shuttle in 1985. They went to the ISS as part of the Axiom 2 mission by Axiom Space, a Houston company that arranges private trips.
Mr Al Qarni, a fighter pilot, thanked his colleagues aboard the station for their “hospitality and generosity”.“You are such an amazing inspiration and I have learnt a lot from you,” he said. “And I’ve enjoyed my time here and hopefully in the future, we will be back on another trip very soon.”
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi is on the ISS on a six-month mission. He helped Ms Barnawi with some of her science investigations, including research into human immune cells.
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 pm on Tuesday GST when the closure of the Dragon spacecraft’s hatch will take place. The capsule is scheduled to undock from the ISS at 7.05 pm.
Axiom Space will resume the broadcast when splashdown takes place, which could be about 10 hours later. SpaceX will announce the precise time closer to the event.