Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut set to repair ultra-conservative image in space mission

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Saudi Arabia's first female astronaut set to repair ultra-conservative image in space mission

Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut set to repair ultra-conservative image in space mission

By Sanjay Maurya

Saudi Arabia will send its first female astronaut on a space mission later this year, state media has reported, in the latest move to repair the kingdom’s ultra-conservative image.

According to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Rayyanah Barnawi will be part of a 10-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) along with her fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Al-Qarni.

Saudi Arabia

Country in the Middle East

  • Capital: Riyadh
  • Dialing code: +966
  • Currency: Saudi Riyal
  • King: Salman of Saudi Arabia
  • Population: 3.6 crores (2021) World Bank
  • Government: Monarchy, Absolute monarchy, Unitary state, Islamic state

Barnawi and Al-Qarni will fly to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft as part of a mission by private space company Axiom Space.

The agency informed that Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut on her fourth flight to the ISS, and businessman John Shoffner from Tennessee, who will serve as a pilot, will be accompanying them.

The crew will be launched to the ISS by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Sending the first female astronaut on a space mission is a way to convey a new message to the world. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has implemented reforms to modernize the country’s conservative image, such as granting women the right to drive and travel independently without a male guardian.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia established its space program, and in 2022, the country launched a program to send its astronauts to space, as part of Crown Prince Salman’s plan to diversify the economy.

As of September 2021, a total of 65 women have flown in space, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals. The first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited the Earth 48 times aboard Vostok 6 in 1963. The most recent woman to fly in space is Samantha Cristoforetti, an astronaut with the European Space Agency, who launched into the International Space Station in 2021.

Here are some of the female astronauts who have flown in space:

  • Sally Ride (USA)
  • Kathryn Sullivan (USA)
  • Mae Jemison (USA)
  • Eileen Collins (USA)
  • Sunita Williams (USA)
  • Peggy Whitson (USA)
  • Christina Koch (USA)
  • Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA)
  • Liu Yang (China)
  • Yi So-yeon (South Korea)

These are just a few examples, but there have been many other women who have made incredible contributions to human spaceflight.

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