An astronomical achievement for all women

Nora Al Matrooshi has become the first Arab woman astronaut in history

epa09126826 A handout photo made available by Emirates News Agency (WAM), shows Noura al-Matroushi (R) and Mohammed al-Mulla (L) the newly announced UAE's astronauts for the  country's space program, United Arab Emirates, 10 April 2021.  Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai,  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced in a tweet that he named the first Arab female astronaut Emirati Noura Al Matrooshi in addition to countryman Mohammed Al Mulla they are to get trained at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and be part of the UAE's  space porgram. They were chosen from over 4,000 candidates.  EPA/EMIRATES NEWS AGENCY / HANDOUT HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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Three hundred and eighty kilometres above the Earth, in a climate where external temperatures range from about 120°C to minus 150°C, a group of astronauts live in the International Space Station. The crew members exist in the most unearthly conditions imaginable but the modern world relies on their work.

In 2019, UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri became the first Emirati beyond our atmosphere, after a trip to the ISS. The Arab world celebrated the moment as a revival of the Middle East's historic contribution to space exploration, decades after Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud became, in 1985, the first Arab, Muslim and member of a royal family to leave Earth. The latest milestone in the Mena region's story beyond the atmosphere came on Saturday, when the UAE announced that Nora Al Matrooshi, along with a male colleague, would be joining the country's space corps. She will be the first Arab woman astronaut.

In response to the news, Ms Al Matrooshi pledged to do her utmost to advance the nation's young and ever-growing space programme, saying in a tweet that "the nation has given me unforgettable moments today. I aim to work hard to script historical moments and achievements that will be etched forever in the memory of our people".

(FILES) This NASA photo obtained on April 6, 2021, shows Ingenuity helicopter seen on Mars as viewed by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021. NASA announced on April 10, 2021, that the first flight of its Mars helicopter Ingenuity has been delayed to no earlier than April 14 after the vehicle's last test ended earlier than planned, according to a statement from the agency. The delay is due to an anomaly during a test that aimed to have the helicopter's blades reach flight speed of 2,400 revolutions per minute. "During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday [April 9], the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a 'watchdog' timer expiration," NASA officials wrote in the statement. "This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from 'Pre-Flight' to 'Flight' mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth." - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / NASA/JPL-Caltech/HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Mars has been a particular focus of national space programmes, with both the US and the UAE recently sending probes to the Red Planet. AFP
More than 550 astronauts have been in space, but only 65 were women

This is a win for all women in the Middle East, who now have a role model in the remarkable vocation of space travel. She represents the ambition of young Arabs, who, despite the variety of challenges they may face, continue to work, study, travel and innovate to break new ground. When it comes to Middle Eastern women in the skies, Ms Al Matrooshi is in good company. Other role models include Etihad Airways' Aisha Al Mansouri, the UAE's first female pilot of an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger jet, and Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American businesswoman who in 2006 became the first female space tourist.

And for all humanity, Ms Al Matrooshi joins a sector that has at its foundation a culture of multilateral co-operation, in which different nationalities, regardless of what might be happening in earthly politics, work together to carry out remarkable tasks. A project such as the ISS would not succeed without the collaboration of its diverse staff. Her new journey will also help address the global gender imbalance of women in space. As of 2020, more than 550 astronauts had left Earth's atmosphere. Only 65 were women. The first spacewalk ever to take place was in 1965. The first all-female one only happened in 2019.

In an interview with The National, Ms Ansari spoke about the region's historic relationship with the stars, one that produced some of the earliest and most important astronomers in history. If the Middle East is to continue this tradition into the modern era, it is only fitting that its women should be part of the journey. But keeping in mind statistics that reveal hugely unequal gender representation in general, Ms Al Matrooshi's success is one for women worldwide.