Saudi Arabia announces astronaut to be nation's first female space traveler

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Axiom Mission 1 launching aboard a Falcon 9 in April, en route to the ISS.
Image: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

On Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced Saudi Arabia had selected its first female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, to join a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year, slating her to be the kingdom's first female spacegoer.

Operator Axiom Space revealed the other three crew members for the mission, Ax-2, on Sunday: a male Saudi, Ali Al-Qarni; Peggy Whitson, a retired NASA astronaut who has flown to the ISS three times; and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee, US, selected to pilot the mission.

The SPA said SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket would fly the mission from Launch Complex 39A in the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, US.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia would follow the United Arab Emirates, its neighbour, which became the first Arab country to send a citizen into space in 2019.

According to the Agence France-Presse, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, has been attempting to rid the kingdom of its austere image by enacting reforms, including the establishment of the space programme in 2018.