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The first Saudis to go to the space station have taken off.

WASHINGTON: On Monday, a private mission hired by Axiom Space, a SpaceX capsule carrying two Saudi astronauts docked with the International Space Station.

Scientist Rayyanah Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to go into space. Fighter pilot Ali Al-Qarni is the first person from their country to go to the orbiting base.

Peggy Whitson, the mission leader and a former NASA astronaut who has done the trip three times, said, “It was a lovely ride,” and she added, “It was the softest docking I’ve ever felt.” John Shoffner is an American businessman who is the fourth member of the group.

About two hours after docking, the capsule opened so the four could get into the ISS. They joined the seven men who were already there: three Russians, three Americans, and an Emirati.

Sunday, the SpaceX rocket took off from Florida. It took about 16 hours to get to the ISS, which is about 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth.

This mission, called Ax-2, is the second fully private mission to visit the International Space Station. The first one was in April 2022 and was called Ax-1. The people from Ax-2 will stay for about ten days and do about twenty tests.

Saudi Arabia has been to space before, so this is not their first trip. In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, who was a fighter in the Saudi air force, went on a trip to space that was set up by the US.

“I think back on my time in space many years ago, and I’m glad that Saudi Arabia is back in space,” he said at a party in Riyadh to watch the Ax-2 launch. “If God wills it, this is only the start.”