Later this year, Saudi Arabia will send its first female astronaut on a space mission, the latest step in the country’s effort to shed its notoriously conservative reputation. According to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Rayyana Barnawi will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) with Ali Al-Qarni for a 10-day expedition.
According to SPA and Axiom Space, Barnawi and Al-Qarni will go to the ISS in a SpaceX Dragon rocket as part of a mission this spring.
Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who will be making her fourth trip to the ISS, and Tennessee businessman John Shoffner, who will serve as the pilot, will also be on board Ax-2.
From Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry the Ax-2 crew to the International Space Station.
Oil-rich The neighbouring United Arab Emirates, which in 2019 became the first Arab nation to send one of its citizens into space, will be followed by Saudi Arabia in this endeavour.
Hazzaa al-Mansoori, an astronaut, stayed aboard the ISS for eight days. Later this month, Sultan al-Neyadi, another fellow Emirati, will travel to the space station.
The 41-year-old Neyadi, known as the “Sultan of Space,” will launch for the ISS atop a Falcon 9 rocket and become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in space.
Through a variety of programmes, Gulf monarchs have been attempting to diversify their heavily dependent on hydrocarbon economies.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, has also been working to restructure the country in an effort to shed its reputation for austerity.
Women now have the freedom to drive and travel abroad without a male chaperone since his ascent to power in 2017, and their share of the workforce has increased from 17% to 37% since 2016.
But this is not Saudi Arabia’s first trip into space.
The first Arab Muslim to travel into space was Saudi royal Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an air force pilot who participated in a US-organized space mission in 1985.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia set up a space program and last year launched another to send astronauts into space, all part of Prince Salman’s Vision 2030 agenda for economic diversification.
Axiom Space carried out its first private astronaut mission to the ISS in April 2022. Four private astronauts spent 17 days in orbit as part of Ax-1.