Family pride as Saudi astronauts return to Earth from International Space Station
Two Saudi astronauts, one of them the first Saudi woman sent into orbit, returned to Earth late on Tuesday after a nine-day trip to the International Space Station.
Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, was accompanied by fighter pilot compatriot Ali Al-Qarni and two others - US businessman John Shoffner, and retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.
The AX-2 mission began on 21 May in a SpaceX capsule that launched from Florida, and ended when their spacecraft splashed down in the Gulf on Mexico off the Floridian coast on Tuesday.
"My feeling is indescribable and I am proud of what Ali Al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi have achieved," said Al-Qarni’s mother, according to a video the Saudi television channel Al Ekhbariya posted to its official Twitter.
Barnawi was emotional when leaving the Space Station to return home on Monday, according to the science and technology news site Phys.org, reportedly saying: "Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region."
The astronauts were only the second group to be launched into space for the private company Axiom Space.
The Saudi government picked up the multimillion-dollar tab for Barnawi and Al-Qarni’s journeys, while John Shoffner paid his own way.
The journey was commanded by Peggy Whitson, who became the first woman to command a private-sector space mission.