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Rayyanah Barnawi Blazes the Trail for Saudi Women Astronauts

Rayyanah Barnawi has made history by becoming the first woman to represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) organized by Axiom. Barnawi is joined by fellow Saudi fighter pilot Ali Al-Qarni. The team also includes US aviator and businessman John Shoffner, serving as the pilot, along with the mission leader, former NASA astronaut and ISS commander Peggy Whitson.

Who is Rayyanah Barnawi?

Rayyanah Barnawi captured the world’s attention after being selected as a mission specialist for the Ax-2 mission.

Born in Jeddah in September 1988, Barnawi discovered her passion for biomedical sciences at an early age. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from Otago University in New Zealand. She continued her quest for knowledge by pursuing a Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from Alfaisal University in KSA.

Barnawi has worked in cancer stem-cell research for over 9 years. During her career, she served as a research lab technician for the renowned Stem Cell and Tissue Re-engineering Program at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh.

In 2014, Barnawi pushed the boundaries of her own courage and embarked on wingsuit flying training in Dubai, immersing herself in the exhilaration of freefall flight. Additionally, in 2022, she honed her physical resilience and prepared herself for the challenges of space travel by participating in the centrifuge and hypoxic training in KSA.

During the Ax-2 mission, Barnawi’s focus will be on stem cell and breast cancer research, leveraging her expertise to uncover innovative solutions and deepen the understanding of these critical areas. Her unwavering dedication and relentless pursuit of scientific progress will undoubtedly pave the way for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in the field of medicine.

Beyond her inspiring professional accomplishments, Barnawi is an avid outdoor and sports enthusiast. Her thrilling adventures across the globe range from scuba diving in the enchanting waters of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia to hang gliding, ledge swinging, and river rafting in New Zealand and Türkiye.

About the Ax-2 Mission

The team took off from the Kennedy Space Center in the US at 1:37 am GST on Monday, May 22, 2023, in a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon craft will travel for 16 hours and is expected to arrive at the ISS at 6:00 PM GST. The crew will join UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who is already there on a 6-month mission. The group of 3 Arabs in space is a record in its own right.

The mission requires them to spend 8 days on the ISS. Upon their arrival, the crew will perform scientific research, outreach initiatives, and commercial activities. According to reports, they will conduct a wide range of over 14 different experiments focused on human research, cell sciences, and cloud seeding in the microgravity environment during their stay on the ISS.

The data collected during their spaceflight will have profound implications for the understanding of human physiology, both on Earth and in space. By studying the effects of microgravity on the human body, these experiments will provide valuable insights into the intricacies of human health and well-being. Moreover, this mission serves as a platform to test and validate innovative technologies that hold promise for future human space exploration endeavors. The knowledge gained from these experiments will not only benefit astronauts but also contribute to advancements in various fields for the betterment of humanity on Earth.

Aside from a remarkable professional opportunity, Rayyanah Barnawi eagerly anticipates sharing her remarkable journey with the young Saudi generation. She finds great excitement in witnessing their awe as they see a woman astronaut hailing from their own region for the first time.

The Kingdom Beyond Space

Rayyanah Barnawi and Al-Qarni are the first from their country to travel to space since Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman went on NASA’s Discovery mission in 1985. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the mission goes beyond its scientific significance. It also serves as a catalyst to expand space science education within the kingdom, opening up new opportunities for Saudi male and female students to actively participate in scientific experiments conducted on the ISS.

This mission aligns with Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030, a comprehensive reform program aimed at modernizing the Arab nation and reducing the nation’s reliance on oil while fostering job creation for its young population. The creation of the Saudi Space Commission in 2018 and the subsequent astronaut program launch underscore the kingdom’s commitment to drive innovation and progress in the space sector.

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