Saudi Arabia is on the verge of making history with its inaugural space mission, slated for launch on May 21. This landmark event will witness the Kingdom's first Arab Muslim female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, alongside astronaut Ali al-Qarni, embark on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) has confirmed the magnitude of this achievement. Although the mission initially faced delays, NASA Space Operations has now confirmed that the launch will take place no later than May 21. The Saudi space mission, which marks a historical moment for the Kingdom, will launch from the United States.
Once the astronauts reach the ISS, they will engage in 14 groundbreaking scientific experiments, taking advantage of the microgravity environment. These experiments aim to facilitate the development of innovative methods to establish suitable conditions for human space exploration. Furthermore, the astronauts will connect with 12,000 Saudi students through live feeds, conducting three educational awareness experiments.
The outcomes of these experiments are anticipated to have a profound impact on Saudi research centers, elevating the Kingdom's prominence in the realm of space exploration. Moreover, this feat will establish Saudi Arabia as one of the few countries with two astronauts simultaneously present aboard the ISS.
Saudi Arabia's astronaut program was initiated in September 2022, in line with the goals of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, which aims to propel advancements in space research. The program prioritizes the preparation of future astronauts and engineers through comprehensive educational and training initiatives, active participation in scientific experiments, collaborations with international researchers, and preparations for forthcoming space missions.
Rayyanah Barnawi is a highly skilled Research Laboratory Specialist. She is working as a mission specialist on the Ax-2 mission, the second all-private astronaut mission to the ISS. With over 9 years of experience, Barnawi has a wealth of knowledge in stem cell and tissue re-engineering programmes. She has demonstrated excellence in improving research protocols, debugging diverse methods, managing several breast cancer research projects, and publishing a number of significant papers in her profession during her career.
Barnawi holds a master's degree in biomedical sciences with First Class Honors from Alfaisal University, as well as a bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences (ReGD) from Otago University. Her love of experimentation and scientific research inspired her to apply for the Saudi National Astronaut Programme. She wants to work as an astronaut so she may do ground-breaking research in zero gravity for the sake of her country and all of humanity.