Saudi astronauts return to Earth

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Two Saudi astronauts and other private passengers returned to Earth Tuesday night on a private trip after a nine-day stay on the International Space Station.

The SpaceX capsule with the four people on board descended by parachute into the Gulf of Mexico sea, off northwest Florida, 12 hours after undocking from the orbital laboratory.

The Saudi government covered the million-dollar cost of the trip to the orbital station 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 sobbed at the end of his experiments and prepared to leave the space station.

"Every story comes to an end and this is just the beginning of a new era for our country and our region," the researcher said Monday.

A Knoxville, Tennessee, entrepreneur who has started a motorsports team, John Shoffner, paid for his own trip to the space station.

Also traveling was NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who now works for the Houston company that contracted the flight, Axiom Space.

The group was launched into orbit last week on Axiom's second contracted flight to the space station. The company plans to transport more clients by the end of the year.

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