‘We've been waiting for this’: Saudis thrilled as kingdom’s space programme takes off

New astronaut project lays foundation for Saudi Arabia’s space sector

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Citizens of Saudi Arabia are hopeful that the kingdom’s increased investment in its space sector will help create opportunities for them.

The kingdom was the first nation to send an Arab to space in 1985 but a long-term space programme did not follow that mission.

On Saudi National Day this month, the Saudi Space Commission announced a new astronaut programme, featuring plans to send two Saudis, including the first Arab female, into space in 2023.

The efforts are part of a vision to set up a sustainable space programme that also includes plans to explore the Moon and Mars.

Ghaida Aloumi, the national point of contact for Saudi Arabia for the Space Generation Advisory Council, said Saudis have been “waiting for the opportunity” for some time.

“Saudi Arabia is full of capable, eligible, aspiring youth and individuals who have been passionate about space since an early age,” Ms Aloumi said, who is also the founder of the AstroGeeks space club.

“They were influenced by Prince Sultan bin Salman’s voyage to space in 1985, and being a millennial and growing up in that era, I represent a majority of my generation who have space passion and fascination running in their blood.”

Saudi Vision 2030 is a programme that aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy.

Its framework is helping to boost the local space sector and is expected to create jobs in the field.

“Our country and the Crown Prince have been aiming to empower the nation through Vision 2030,” Ms Aloumi said.

The Saudi space agency's stand at the IAC 2022 in Paris. Photo: Sarwat Nasir / The National

“I believe that Saudi Arabia is full of potential," she said. "Saudi nationals are more than ready, charged with vision and aspiration and they were only waiting for the opportunity — a Saudi space and astronauts programme can make their space dreams and aspirations come true.”

Ms Aloumi is one among many in Saudi Arabia who hopes to work in the space sector.

She plans to pursue a master’s degree in space policy and will travel to the US to study.

The Saudi astronauts will be part of the AX-2 mission, Reuters reported, after a deal was made between the Saudi Space Commission and Axiom Space, a private infrastructure company in Houston, Texas.

The company arranges trips to the International Space Station for clients on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.

The UAE this year also secured a deal from Axiom Space, which involves a six-month stay on the space station for its Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.

The UAE has a female in its astronaut corps, Nora Al Matrooshi, who is currently taking part in Nasa’s astronaut training programme. She was expected to be the first female Arab in space but will likely be second if Saudi plans come to fruition.

Axiom Space is working with the Saudi Space Commission to train domestic astronauts for the spaceflight as well as conducting scientific research in space.

Bader Kurdi is another Saudi who is excited about the growth of the domestic space scene.

“We are very excited with the upcoming ISS mission, in which one Saudi female will be aboard,” he said.

“This mission will be the spark of emotions for this young generation to join the Saudi Space Commission and explore space science.”

Many Arab countries are increasing investment in space, with the UAE leading the way, having sent a mission to Mars, an astronaut to the ISS, launched domestically built satellites and a long-term lunar exploration programme in operation.

The Arab Space Co-operation Group was formed in March 2019 to help boost the contribution of Arab countries in the sector. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq and Mauritania are members.

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Updated: September 30, 2022, 10:07 AM