Giant Leap for Saudi Women: In a First, Kingdom Launches Plan to Send Female Astronauts to Space

In a first, Saudi Arabia on Thursday launched its astronaut programme with the goal of sending the country’s first female astronaut to space in 2023, state news agency SPA reported.

The project is being hailed as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push for promoting science and technology under its wide-ranging ‘Vision 2030’ plan to overhaul its economy and reduce its dependency on oil.

“The Saudi Astronaut Program, which is an integral part of the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030, will send Saudi astronauts into space to help better serve humanity,” the Saudi Space Commission said in a statement.

“One of the astronauts will be a Saudi woman, whose mission to space will represent a historical first for the Kingdom,” it added.

First Arab in Space

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman, a half-brother of the crown prince and an air force pilot, was the first Arab or Muslim to travel to space as part of the seven-member crew of NASA’s Discovery mission in 1985. He later served as head of the Saudi Space Commission from 2018 until last year, when he was appointed an adviser to King Salman.

The neighboring United Arab Emirates has the Arab world’s leading space program, having launched a probe into Mars’ orbit in February 2021. The UAE plans to launch its first lunar rover in November. If the moon mission succeeds, the UAE and Japan, which is providing the lander, would join the ranks of only the US, Russia and China as nations that have put a spacecraft on the lunar surface.

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In a significant move in the conservative Muslim country, the ambitious project also calls for greater integration of women into the workforce with plans to create one million jobs for women. The ban on women driving was only lifted in 2018. As per recent reports, women being trained and are slated to drive high efficient Haramain trains at the end of 2022.

(With inputs from AP)

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