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Meet Rayyana Barnawi, the first female astronaut from Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will launch its first female astronaut into space later this year, the latest step in the kingdom's efforts to improve its ultra-conservative image.


Rayyana Barnawi will go to the International Space Station (ISS) with fellow Saudi Ali Al-Qarni, according to the Saudi News Agency (SPA).


Barnawi, 33, and Al-Qarni will go to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Dragon spaceship as part of a mission this spring by the private space business Axiom Space, according to SPA and Axiom.


Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who will be undertaking her fourth voyage to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a Tennessee businessman who will act as pilot, will both be aboard Ax-2.


Oil-rich Saudi Arabia will be following in the footsteps of its neighboring UAE, which became the first Arab country to send one of its people into space in 2019.

Hazzaa al-Mansoori spent eight days aboard the International Space Station. Sultan al-Neyadi, another Emirati, will also go to the space station later this month.


The 41-year-old Neyadi, dubbed the "Sultan of Space," will become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in orbit when he launches on a Falcon 9 rocket towards the International Space Station.


Gulf monarchs have been working on a variety of initiatives to diversify their energy-reliant economies.


Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, has also been pushing for reforms in order to shed the kingdom's austere image.


Following his election in 2017, women have been permitted to drive and go abroad without the supervision of a male guardian, and their share of the workforce has more than quadrupled since 2016, from 17 to 37 percent.


But, this is not Saudi Arabia's first excursion into space.


Saudi royal Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an air force pilot, participated in a US-organized space mission in 1985, becoming the first Arab Muslim to journey into space.


Saudi Arabia established a space program in 2018 and began another last year to send people into space, all as part of Prince Salman's Vision 2030 strategy for economic diversification.


In April 2022, Axiom Space launched its first private astronaut trip to the International Space Station. As part of Ax-1, four private astronauts spent 17 days in space.

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