Saudis set for SpaceX launch

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 21, (AP): SpaceX’s next private flight to the International Space Station awaited takeoff Sunday, weather and rocket permitting. The passengers include Saudi Arabia’s first astronauts in decades, as well as a Tennessee businessman who started his own sports car racing team. They’ll be led by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that arranged the 10-day trip. It’s the second charter flight organized by Houston- based Axiom Space. The company would not say how much the latest tickets cost; it previously cited per-seat prices of $55 million.

This combination of photos provided by Axiom Space in 2023 shows astronauts, from left, Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. SpaceX’s next private flight to the International Space Station awaited takeoff Sunday, weather and rocket permitting. (AP)

With its Falcon rocket already on the pad, SpaceX targeted a liftoff late Sunday afternoon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It’s the same spot where Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut, a prince, soared in 1985. Representing the Saudi Arabian government this time are Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher set to become the kingdom’s first woman in space, and Royal Saudi Air Force fighter pilot Ali Al-Qarni. Rounding out the crew: John Shoffner, the racecar buff, and Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for most accumulated time in space at 665 days.

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