While the Biden Administration appears to have its issues with Saudi Arabia, this is not stopping the visit of two Saudi Arabian private astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Space News reports that NASA has confirmed that a male and female astronaut from Saudi Arabia will travel to the ISS next spring aboard a SpaceX rocket as part of the privately-run Axiom Space. Plans for this mission were reported back in September.
This will be the second Axiom Space mission to the ISS. Other missions are being planned involving additional countries, including astronauts from Turkey, Hungary, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. Mission participants need to be approved by a NASA-chaired panel that includes the countries involved with the ISS program.
Axiom Space will send four crew members to the ISS for 12 days. Here is the pitch for the second mission, or Ax-2:
The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) astronauts are part of the latest class of space explorers and Axiom’s next crew to advance a new method of access to the International Space Station (ISS) and low-Earth orbit. Aboard the orbiting laboratory, the four-person, multinational crew will conduct extensive research, investigate novel technologies, and engage with audiences around the world as champions of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. Their efforts will continue to lay the groundwork and establish key capabilities for the future Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station.
You may recall that Saudi Arabia also signed onto the Artemis Accords over the summer. The Accords were established in 2020 to affirm each signatory’s commitment to sustainable space exploration “guided by a common set of principles that promote the beneficial use of space for all of humanity.”
All of this shows that space still remains a realm that does not need to be militarized or abused even if we have yet to figure out to resolve these issues here on Earth. Whatever problems with have with our neighbors, it’s good to see we are building some things together.
As noted earlier, even if the press on this Ax-2 mission demonstrates some unity, let’s just hope these “astronauts” are there for more than a joy ride. I am not convinced that space tourism is what we need. But given that Axiom Space is considering its own commercial space station, maybe there is some interest in real work in space by these parties.