Last week brought an exciting development in Saudi Arabia’s progress for women’s empowerment as Riana Bernawi became the first Saudi female astronaut. Bernawi, a 34-year-old biomedical science researcher, made her way to the International Space Station (ISS), where she plans to conduct research related to stem cells and breast cancer.
Throughout a ten-day mission, Bernawi conducted research and engaged in dialogues with Saudi students via ISS radio broadcasts. She began sharing her space adventure on Twitter, posting selfies from space and updating her Earth-bound audience about her activities. She even showcased her grandmother’s earrings, which she brought along to space.
The Saudi Space Commission announced on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, the successful completion of the space mission of Saudi astronauts Bernawi and Ali Al-Qarni. The spacecraft carrying the mission crew, named AX2, landed in the Atlantic Ocean after a ten-day voyage. Images showed the astronauts waving their hands after the landing.
The Saudi Press Agency stated that the “scientific journey was remarkable at the International Space Station and achieved the Kingdom’s aspirations in contributing to scientific research that serves humanity, benefiting from promising opportunities presented by the space sector and its global industries, and building national capabilities in the field of manned missions.” It highlighted that this pioneering mission is a significant milestone for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, symbolizing a moment of pride for national and scientific achievements in the space sector.
Bernawi’s participation in the space mission reflects the transformation of women’s status in Saudi Arabia, a country where women were only permitted to drive cars as recently as 2018, alongside societal and political restrictions on their engagement within the Saudi community.