A team of four astronauts, including Saudis Ali Al-Qarni and Rayana Barnawi, returned safely to Earth at the end of an eight-day research mission aboard the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying the four astronauts landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, after a 12-hour flight, reports Al-Rai daily.

The flight concluded a second mission to the space station that was organized, equipped and trained by Axiom Space, a Houston-based company launched seven years ago and headed by the former International Space Station Program Director at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Axiom 2 crew was led by the retired American astronaut who worked at NASA, Peggy Whitson (63 years old), who holds the record in space by 665 days, during three long missions to the International Space Station, which included ten swimming operations in space. She is currently the Director of Manned Spaceflight at Axiom. “It was an exceptional flight, we really enjoyed it,” Whitson told mission controllers after landing.

The second American, John Shoffner, 67, is a pilot, race car driver and investor from Alaska.

As for the two Saudis, they are Ali Al-Qarni, 31, a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force, and Rayana Barnawi, 34, a biomedical scientist specializing in cancer stem cell research. They are the first two astronauts from the Kingdom ever to go up to space on a private vehicle.

Bernawi is also the first Arab woman to embark on a journey to Earth’s orbit and the first Saudi woman to go into space.

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