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Saudi Arabia plans to send its first female astronaut.

First Saudi woman to go space

State media has announced that Saudi Arabia will send its first female astronaut on a space mission later this year, the latest step in the country’s effort to shed its notoriously conservative reputation.

The International Space Station (ISS) mission of Rayyana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni will take place “during the second quarter of 2023,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The space journey would “launch from the USA,” according to the agency, and the astronauts “will join the crew of the AX-2 space mission.”

The oil-rich nation will be following in the footsteps of the nearby United Arab Emirates, which made history in 2019 by being the first Arab nation to send a person into space.

Hazzaa al-Mansoori, an astronaut at the time, was on the ISS for eight days. Later this month, Sultan al-Neyadi, another fellow Emirati, will travel.

The “Sultan of Space,” 41-year-old Neyadi, will launch for the ISS atop a SpaceX 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.

However, Saudi Arabia’s venture into space is hardly the first.

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.

As part of Prince Salman’s Vision 2030 plan for economic diversification, Saudi Arabia established a space programme in 2018 and launched another one to send astronauts into space last year.