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Saudi Arabia to send its first female astronaut into Space

February 14, 2023
Screenshot 2023 02 14 104900

Saudi Arabia will send its first female astronaut into space later this year, according to state media, in the latest attempt to improve the kingdom’s ultra-conservative image.

Rayyana Barnawi will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) with fellow Saudi male astronaut Ali Al-Qarni “during the second quarter of 2023,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The astronauts will “join the crew of the AX-2 space mission,” and the mission will “launch from the United States,” according to the agency.

Nicknamed the ‘Sultan of Space’, 41-year-old Neyadi will become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in space when he blasts off for the ISS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Saudi Arabia’s foray into space is not the first, however. In 1985, Saudi royal Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an airforce pilot, took part in a US-organised space mission, becoming the first Arab Muslim to travel into space.

Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also been trying to shake off the kingdom’s austere image through a push for reforms.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia set up a space programme and last year launched another to send astronauts into space, all part of Prince Salman’s Vision 2030 agenda for economic diversification.

Since his rise to power in 2017, women have been allowed to drive and to travel abroad without a male guardian, and their proportion in the workforce has more than doubled since 2016, from 17 percent to 37 percent.

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