Saudi Arabia will send its first female astronaut into space

She will visit the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. (Representative)

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:

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

Rayana Barnawi will join fellow Saudi male astronaut Ali al-Qarni on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) “during the second quarter of 2023”, the official Saudi press agency said on Sunday.

The agency said the astronauts “will join the crew of the AX-2 space mission” and the space flight “will launch from the USA”.

The oil-rich country will follow in the footsteps of the neighboring United Arab Emirates, which in 2019 became the first Arab country to send a citizen into space.

At that time, astronaut Hazza al-Mansoori had spent eight days on the ISS. Another fellow Emirati, Sultan Al-Neyadi, will also visit later this month.

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

The Gulf monarchies are seeking to diversify their energy-dependent economies through a plethora of projects.

Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also trying to shake off the kingdom’s hardline image by pushing for reforms.

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

However, Saudi Arabia’s foray into space is not the first.

In 1985, Saudi royal prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an airforce pilot, participated in a US-organized space mission, becoming the first Arab Muslim to travel in space.

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

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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