Emirati trailblazer Nora Al Matrooshi is ready to enter uncharted territory as the Arab world's first female astronaut.
The mechanical engineer, 28, is relishing the opportunity to tackle the intense training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre, including spending hours underwater to learn how to spacewalk and flying supersonic jets.
The arduous journey will lay the foundations for for an historic journey to space from humble beginnings in Sharjah. She hopes her story will inspire others to pursue the biggest of dreams.
Ms Al Matrooshi spoke to The National about what her momentous achievement means to her and what it could represent for the region.
Q: What does the ‘first Arab woman astronaut’ title mean to you, and how do you think your selection will inspire other Arab countries now developing their own space programmes?
A: I think it proves that the Arab woman has the capabilities and that they are able to represent the Arab world in different sectors and fields. I think that me being selected as the first Arab female astronaut will lead the way for other girls who are interested in the space field and will inspire them.
Q: How do you think your background as a mechanical engineer and the experience gained in your career, or even personal life, adds value to the astronaut programme and to space missions you will go on one day?
As an engineer, you need to be able to analyse a lot of information in a short period and, I believe, that skill is essential for being an astronaut. The rest of the UAE astronauts are in different fields and I think my expertise in engineering would be valuable.
Q: What has your family's reaction been since you were selected?
A: I applied to the programme before telling my family. They did know I've been saying my entire life that I'm going to be an astronaut, so it wasn't that big of a surprise for them. I'm known to be a bit stubborn, in terms of if I want something, I'm going to try my best to get to it – even if I have to work for a couple of years to earn it. I hope that my parents are proud of what I've achieved so far. Hopefully, they'll be even more proud of what I'll be achieving in the future.
Q: What’s your family background? Are your parents or siblings also interested in space?
A: My mother has a PhD in curriculums and leadership. My father also has a PhD in chemical and petroleum engineering. I’m the oldest in the family. My sister is currently in Canada. She is a medical doctor and she is training to become a surgeon.
Q: What is the most important personal item you’ll take with you to space once you’re assigned a mission?
A: If I did have the opportunity, I think, I want to take a book with me, a book or an e-reader. I say an e-reader because I'd be able to take more books with me rather than just one physical book. I love to read. I enjoy novels, fantasy and fiction novels, mostly.
Q: To young people who look up to you, especially young women and girls in the Arab and Islamic world, what are your tips for being successful, following their dreams, particularly those who want to pursue a career in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths)?
A: If I can do it, then you can do it too. If no one has done it yet, then you just go ahead and be the first. Always set high goals and ambitions for yourself. If you are shooting for the Moon and you don’t reach, you’d still fall on to the stars. No matter how high your goals or ambitions, if you are not able to reach them, you will still be taking, at least, one small step in the direction of bettering yourself.
Q: Your training is coming up – flying on supersonic jets and spending hours underwater. That sounds scary. Do you feel prepared and ready for that?
A: I feel prepared and excited, because I like to think of myself as a very adventurous person. I love the fact that I'll be put in situations I'm not used to. So, I'll be pushed out of my comfort zone. I feel like that's very exciting.