Rayyanah Barnawi has become the first Arab woman astronaut to go to space as part of a private Saudi mission that took off from Florida, USA, to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday May 21.
The 34-year-old scientist is on a 10-day mission as part of Axiom Space’s second private voyage to the ISS and is joined by three other crew members, including fellow Saudi Ali al-Qarni, a fighter pilot.
During the mission, the crew will conduct more than 20 science and technological experiments, including studying the repercussions of space on human health and rain-seeding technology, according to the BBC.
Barnawi, who has dedicated almost a decade to stem-cell research, will focus on studying stem cells and breast cancer during the mission.
Barnawi has called the opportunity an incredible honor.
“Being the first Saudi woman astronaut, representing the region, it’s a great pleasure and honour that I’m very happy to carry,” she said in a press conference before the takeoff.
She said she looks forward to sharing her experiences with young people in Saudi Arabia and hopes that her story can inspire women from all backgrounds in the Middle East.
“To the people around the world, the future is very bright. I would like you to dream big, believe in yourselves and believe in humanity,” she said in her first message from space.
Barnawi and al-Qarni are the first people from Saudi Arabia to travel to outer space since 1985, when a Saudi prince became the first Saudi person in space after blasting off in a shuttle called Discovery.