When the Saudi Space Commission announced who would be joining their first crew to the International Space Station, they made history. Part of the two-person team is 33-year-old Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Saudi astronaut heading to space. She will be a part of Axiom Mission 2 as a specialist along with Ali AlQarni, a fellow Saudi national.
After this announcement, Barnawi has certainly become an inspiration for women in the region. However, even before she joined this mission, the astronaut was someone that many young girls in Saudi would look up to. As a biomedical researcher, she has almost a decade of experience in cancer stem-cell research. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Genetics, Reproduction, and Development from the University of Otago and a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences from Alfaisal University she has been working as a research laboratory technician at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre.
Barnawi, along with AlQarni and backup crew members Mariam Fardous and Ali AlGhamdi will be receiving training under the Saudi Space Commission’s Spaceflight Program. It is Saudi Arabia’s commitment to developing its space program under Vision 2030 that has allowed the Kingdom to achieve this milestone, one that also stands as a testament to increasing efforts for gender equality. As Barnawi heads to space, she will not only facilitate Saudi Arabia’s scientific research but also give women in the Kingdom a chance to dream bigger.
The Saudi crew members will be heading to the United States later this year for launch. They will be joined by former Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson as spacecraft commander and John Shoffner who will be piloting the Crew Dragon spacecraft.