Saudi Arabia is to send two astronauts, including a woman, to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time in its history during the second quarter of 2023, with the oil-rich Gulf state following in the footsteps of its Emirati neighbor.
The world's largest crude exporter, the ultra-conservative kingdom is seeking to diversify its economy and improve its image through various projects and announcements, particularly in a context of recurring criticism of serious human rights violations.
First astronauts from Arab countries
Saudi Arabia will send its first female and male Saudi astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in the second quarter of 2023
,” the official SPA news agency said on Sunday.
The dispatch of Rayana Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni will be organized from the United States, with the aim in particular of "
benefiting from the promising opportunities offered by the space sector and its industries on a global scale
", added SPA. .
The announcement comes as Emirati Sultan al-Neyadi will become the first astronaut from an Arab country to spend six months in space when he flies to the ISS on February 26 aboard a SpaceX spacecraft. .
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The United Arab Emirates, a rich neighboring country and an ally of the Saudis, has embarked on the space race in recent years, sending another of its nationals, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, into space in 2019 for an eight-day mission in the 'ISS.
In 1985, Saudi Arabia sent the first Arab and Muslim astronaut in history to participate in a space flight launched, there too, from the United States.
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Saudi Arabia created the Saudi Space Authority in 2018 and last year launched a program to send astronauts.
These projects were set up as part of the "
" plan of the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto ruler and son of the elderly and ailing King Salman.
Prince Mohammed has launched sweeping economic and social reforms, including the right for women to drive, but remains regularly accused of suppressing civil society, from political opponents to feminist activists.