Saudi Arabia has selected its first female astronaut to send into space in an effort to revamp the country’s ultra-conservative image. Rayyana Barnawi will join astronaut Ali Al-Qarni on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) during the second quarter of 2023.
The mission, called AX-2, will be launched from the United States. This initiative is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to modernize the country, diversify its economy, and improve Saudi Arabia’s international image. Since coming to power in 2017, he has promoted a series of reforms, including removing the ban on women driving and traveling abroad unaccompanied by a man.
In addition, he has sought to increase women’s participation in the labor force, leading to a 37% increase in the proportion of women in the workforce since 2016. The inclusion of Rayyana Barnawi in the space mission is seen as a major milestone in Saudi Arabia’s space career and is expected to inspire more Saudi women to pursue careers in science and technology.
The appointment of Rayyana Barnawi as the first female Saudi astronaut is also seen as an important step in the fight for gender equality in Saudi Arabia.
It should be noted that Saudi Arabia is not the only Persian Gulf country seeking to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. In recent years, Gulf countries have launched ambitious space programs to enhance their scientific and technological capabilities and to stimulate foreign investment. The creation of the Saudi Space Authority in 2018 and the launch of the space program to send astronauts into space last year were part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy to diversify its economy and develop new industries.
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