Just four years ago, the United Arab Emirates launched a grand space program. Now the Middle Eastern country has named its next two rocketeers. And this time, the list includes the first Arab female astronaut.
UAE’s spacecraft reached Mars in February. The arrival into orbit, behind the United States Mars landing and ahead of China, was a huge accomplishment for the fledgling program. It was also a first for the Arab world. (See Spacecraft Converge on Mars.) The country’s stated aerospace goals include putting an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon in 2024, building a human settlement on Mars by 2117, and developing 3-D printed houses for use on the Red Planet.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai, one of UAE’s seven emirates (similar to states). Sheikh Mohammed also serves as the country’s prime minister and vice president. He named the two new astronauts on Twitter.
His announcement recognized Noura al-Matroushi as the UAE’s first female astronaut. Her male colleague is Mohammed al-Mulla.
“I can proudly assure you,” Sheikh Mohammed said in a video message, “that a generation of young Emiratis will follow you.”
A government promotional video describes al-Matroushi, born in 1993, as an engineer at the Abu Dhabi-based National Petroleum Construction Company.
Al-Mulla, born in 1988, serves as a pilot with Dubai police. He also heads that agency’s training division, government sources say.
Countries in the Middle East have made recent progress in the field of aeronautics. The first Muslim in space was Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman, who joined the crew of the shuttle Discovery in 1985.
Anousheh Raissyan, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur and millionaire from Dallas, became the first Muslim woman and first Iranian in space when she traveled as a self-funded civilian to the International Space Station in 2006. She reportedly paid $20 million to tag along on the mission as a tourist.
In 2019, Major Hazzaa al-Mansoori became the UAE’s first astronaut in space, spending an eight-day mission aboard the ISS.
The two new Emirati astronauts won selection from among more than 4,000 applicants in the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. The pair will undergo training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
If al-Matroushi ends up going on a mission, she could become the first Arab woman employed in space, the UAE government says.
“The nation gave me unforgettable moments today,” al-Matroushi tweeted on the day of the announcement. “I aim to work hard to script historical moments and achievements that will be etched forever in the memory of our people.”
(Newly named Emirati astronauts Mohammed al-Mulla, left, and Noura al-Matroushi, right, pose for an official photo. WAM via AP)