Nora al-Matrouchi, the first female astronaut in the Emirates

Nora al-Matrouchi, 28, will travel to the United States this year with fellow countryman Mohamad al-Mulla, 33, to train at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The United Arab Emirates has selected a woman as an astronaut for the first time as part of its space program that the Gulf state hopes to develop. Chosen from thousands of candidates, Nora al-Matrouchi, 28, is one of the two Emiratis chosen to fly into space: a little girl’s dream, she confided during a press conference held in Dubai on Wednesday Mohamed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC).

The young mechanical engineer with a discreet smile and a face framed by a black veil believes her passion for the stars is an extension of her family’s passion for the sea.

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“On my mother’s side, they are seafarers. I would say they explored the oceans. The term ‘astronaut’ means ‘sailor of the stars’ in Greek, says Ms Matrouchi, who hails from Sharjah, a coastal emirate bordering Dubai. “If I can do it, then so can you. If no one has done it before you, then you have to stand up and be the first,” she added.

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She will travel to the United States this year with fellow countryman Mohamad al-Mulla, 33, to train at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

An Emirati in space

The Emirates already have two astronauts: Hazza al-Mansouri, the first Emirati astronaut to be sent into space – spending eight days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2019 – and Sultan al-Neyadi. The two men are now training in the Emirate of Dubai, specifically to learn Russian, which is essential for any mission in space as the astronauts access the ISS via the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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The oil-rich Emirates have big space ambitions and intend to become the first Arab country to undertake a Mars exploration program. In 2020, they launched the “Hope” probe with the aim of unraveling the mysteries of time on the red planet. This project was led by Minister of Advanced Technologies Sarah al-Amiri, who is also President of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency. In an interview with AFP in February, she emphasized that there were “no limits” to the work of women in the country.

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