UAE introduces its first woman astronaut among fresh class of space-farers

The United Arab Emirates’ space ambitions have just become a bit more inclusive, with a woman selected as one of two candidates for NASA-assisted training as crew for missions in space.

The names of the two members of this second batch of Emirati astronauts were announced on Saturday by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE. Noura al-Matroushi was picked as the first female space-travel candidate from the Arab nation.

We announce the first Arab female astronaut, among two new astronauts, selected from over 4,000 candidates to be trained with NASA for future space exploration missions. Congratulations Noura Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla.

— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) April 10, 2021

She and her male counterpart Mohammed al-Mulla were selected from a shortlist of 14 candidates, comprising nine men and five women, according to the state news agency WAM. More than 4,300 people applied for the jobs after recruitment started in December 2019.

Matroushi holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UAE University and is said to be an award-winning mathematician. If she is picked for a mission to the International Space Station, she would become the first Arab woman to go into space. Her partner in training, Mulla, is a decorated civilian pilot, who works as chief trainer at the Dubai police, the report said.

The two will join NASA’s Astronaut Candidate class and training program at the Johnson Space Center in Texas later this year.

The UAE’s space program is touted as a way to boost technical expertise and interest in sciences in the Arab country. It has already notched up a significant achievement by successfully delivering a probe called ‘Al-Amal’ (‘Hope’ in Arabic) to an orbit of Mars. The mission was designed and launched with the help of US and Japanese specialists.

The first Emirati to go into space was Hazza al-Mansouri, who in September last year served as a flight specialist on board the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, when it blasted off to the ISS. Sultan al-Neyadi, his partner in training, served as the backup crew member for the mission. Both are continuing training for possible future space missions.

The first Arab man to go on a space mission was Saudi prince Sultan bin Salman, who was part of a 1985 Space Shuttle mission. The first Muslim woman in space was Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-born US entrepreneur, who made a trip to the ISS in 2006. She was one of seven participants of the so-called “space tourism” program that the firm Space Adventures ran in collaboration with the Russian space agency in the 2000s.

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