Saudi Arabia has officially announced sending its first woman astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year.
This is a first in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi woman will become the first astronaut to be sent into space. Rayyana Barnawi will join the International Space Station as part of the AX-2 mission. She will be accompanied by her compatriot, astronaut Ali Al Qarni, during the trip scheduled for May 2023.
Dr Mohammed Bin Saud al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission’s CEO declared: “This mission is also historic as it will make the Kingdom one of the few countries in the world that brings two astronauts of the same nationality aboard the International Space Station simultaneously,”
The Saudi human spaceflight program
The Saudi Human Spaceflight program, launched by the SSC, is a comprehensive program aimed at training and qualifying experienced nationals to undertake human spaceflight, participate in scientific experiments, and contribute to future space-related missions. The program includes training two more astronauts, Mariam Fardous and Ali Al Gamdi, on all mission requirements.
The program cooperates with several entities, including the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Sport, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, and international partners such as Axiom Space.
Astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al qarni participate in this space mission as the first Saudi duo to participate in human spaceflights to the International Space Station.
Saudi Arabia Towards Space 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/6bYKP8s2G8
— الهيئة السعودية للفضاء (@saudispace) February 15, 2023
The Gulf space race heats up
The kingdom’s announcement follows a growing trend of interest in space exploration among Gulf countries and the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates sent its first space explorer, Rashid Rover, on a five-month trip to the moon aboard a Japanese spacecraft in December 2022. Similarly, in January 2023, the Sultanate of Oman announced plans to launch Etlaq, the Arab world’s first space launch pad. Last November, an Egyptian woman, Sara Sabry, became the first Arab woman to go into space in an orbital flight aboard the New Shepard rocket.
The departure of Rayyana Barnawi to the ISS is a new chapter in the Saudi space conquest started in 1985 by sending the first Arab astronaut in space, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud turns 66 today. Selected 1985 (Saudi Arabia, Shuttle Payload Specialists). 1 spaceflight, 7+ days in space; (1985) NASA Space Shuttle PS training; (1985) PS-1 STS-51G (Discovery, satellite deployment mission); (1985) retired active status. pic.twitter.com/61zJ7ulySJ
— Astro Info Service (@aisoffice) June 27, 2022