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.
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. 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.
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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.