SpaceX launches with Saudi astronauts
Saudi Arabia's first astronauts in decades have rocketed towards the International Space Station on a chartered multimillion dollar flight.
SpaceX launched the ticket-holding crew on Sunday, led by a retired NASA astronaut now working for the company that arranged the trip. Also on board: a US businessman who now owns a sports car racing team.
The four should reach the space station in their capsule on Monday morning (Tuesday AEST); they'll spend just over a week there before returning home with a splashdown off the Florida coast.
Sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government, Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, became the first woman from the kingdom to go to space. She was joined by Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force.
They're the first from their country to ride a rocket since a Saudi prince launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985. In a quirk of timing, they'll be greeted at the station by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.
"This is a dream come true for everyone," Barnawi said before the flight.
"Just being able to understand that this is possible. If me and Ali can do it, then they can do it, too."
Rounding out the visiting crew: Knoxville, Tennessee's John Shoffner, former driver and owner of a sports car racing team that competes in Europe, and chaperone Peggy Whitson, the station's first female commander who holds the US record for most accumulated time in space: 665 days and counting.
It's the second private flight to the space station organised by Houston-based Axiom Space. The first was last year by three businessmen, with another retired NASA astronaut. The company plans to start adding its own rooms to the station in another few years, eventually removing them to form a stand-alone outpost available for hire.
Axiom won't say how much Shoffner and Saudi Arabia are paying for the planned 10-day mission. The company had previously cited a ticket price of $US55 million ($A83 million) each.
After decades of shunning space tourism, NASA now embraces it with two private missions planned a year. The Russian Space Agency has been doing it, off and on, for decades.
"Our job is to expand what we do in low-Earth orbit across the globe," said NASA's space station program manager Joel Montalbano.