Private Flight with 2 Saudi Astronauts Returns from Space Station with Gulf of Mexico Splashdown

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A private flight carrying two Saudi astronauts and other passengers returned to Earth late Tuesday night after a nine-day trip to the International Space Station.

The SpaceX capsule carrying the four parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Florida panhandle, 12 hours after undocking from the orbiting lab.

The Saudi government picked up the multimillion-dollar tab for its two astronauts: Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher who became the first Saudi woman in space; and fighter pilot Ali al-Qarni.

In this photo provided by NASA, Axiom Mission-2 and Expedition 69 crew members gather for a portrait together during dinner time aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (NASA via AP)

Barnawi wiped away tears as she wrapped up her experiments and prepared to leave the space station.

“Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region,” she said Monday.

In this frame grab from video broadcast by SpaceX, the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashes into the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Florida Panhandle, late Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (SpaceX via AP)
In this frame grab from thermal video broadcast by SpaceX, the SpaceX Dragon capsule is seen with parachutes deployed just before it splashes into the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Florida Panhandle, late Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (SpaceX via AP)

A Knoxville, Tennessee, businessman who started a race car team, John Shoffner, paid his own way to the space station.

The ticket-holders were accompanied by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who now works for the Houston company that chartered the flight, Axiom Space.

They rocketed into orbit last week on Axiom’s second chartered flight to the space station. The company plans to send up more clients by year’s end.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.



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