The Saudi Space Commission (SCC) has confirmed that the Saudi astronauts are ready for the mission to the International Space Station (ISS) this month, after completing the rigorous nine months training program for the flight.
The astronauts, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, will conduct 14 pioneering scientific research experiments in the microgravity environment including three educational awareness experiments during the mission on the ISS. This comes within the Kingdom's astronaut program, that was announced last September as one of the strategic programs the commission is executing.
As part of their training, the astronauts underwent 12 days in simulated space conditions. During this time, they carried out the training related to the experiments that would be conducted on the mission; simulating the penetration of the Earth's atmosphere and the accompanying effect of gravitational forces, rapid acceleration and the heavy pull of gravity on the human body. They trained on all of the equipment and procedures necessary to complete the mission on the ISS with Axiom Space and SpaceX at the National Space Training and Research Center (NASTAR) - one of the state-of-the-art flight simulator facilities in Pennsylvania, USA.
The astronauts underwent their training at the NASA Johnson Center within the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) program which is designed to push people to the extremes and to prepare the team for their AX-2 mission to the ISS. The mission's objective is to inspire students and those interested in space science, whilst stressing the importance of research, the lives of astronauts and the role of integrative science on improving the quality of life on Earth.
The astronauts underwent additional training last September on expeditionary skills at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The training program included instructing the astronauts on operational programs and operations that would be required aboard the ISS. In addition to conducting training programs at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and European Space Agency (ESA) in January and February, they also carried out space payload merging exercises in March 2023. Additionally, training in weightlessness and floating practice, communication skills whilst in orbit and learning about side effects during spaceflight. Astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni have expressed their pride and gratitude in representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in their first sustainable Human Space Flight (HSF) program and to help realize its ambition in the field of space. Both astronauts stressed their enthusiasm and readiness to carry out this mission.
AlQarni says, "The training program enhanced our readiness to deal with any challenge we may face during the space mission," and has "helped us develop the skills necessary for the success of the mission." The program emphasizes that space skills require intensive and accurate training, not only to ensure the achievement of the mission's objectives, but also to ensure the safety of fellow astronaut's personal space.
It is worth noting that the SSC had earlier launched the Astronauts Program, with the aim of qualifying experienced Saudi candidates to embark on space flights that participate in scientific experiments, international research and future space-related missions. All of which will contribute to the future of the industry in Saudi Arabia, whilst organically increasing the interest of graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This will in turn attract talent and skilled individuals and enhance Saudi Arabia's position in the space sector, becoming an important part of the global community in space science research and investing that research in the service of humanity.