UAE Expands Astronaut Program, Naming First Woman

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

On April 10, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced two new additions to the country’s astronaut program, including the first ever female astronaut-in-training selected through the space program of an Arab country.

The duo of new astronauts includes 28-year-old Noura Al Matrooshi, a former engineer for an Emirati oil company, and 33-year old Mohammed Al-Mulla, a pilot with the Dubai police.

The Emirati astronaut program, created in 2018, has so far sent one astronaut to space, with another already in the training process. This year, they decided to double the size of the program, recruiting two additional astronauts. The two astronauts were selected from a pool of 4,300 applicants which was narrowed down through various rounds of interviews, health screenings, and a holistic review.

They will be sent to a NASA training facility in the United States, where they will undergo training that will prepare them for long distance missions to the International Space Station.

Salem AlMarri, who leads the UAE’s astronaut program, mentioned that the astronauts were selected purely out of merit and that selecting a woman was likely anyways, given that over one-third of the applicants were women.

Al Matrooshi herself had this to say about her selection (translated from Arabic): “The homeland presented me today with moments I will never forget. I promise to strive to present [the space agency] moments that remain in the memory of our children, in our record of achievements. Thanks to our wise leadership. Thanks to the team of the Emirates Astronaut Program. Now preparations for the upcoming missions begin, now work begins.”

The UAE leads the Arab world in gender pay equality with a pay gap of 17.3%. For reference, in the U.S, men make 18.8% more than women on average. Still, they are behind much of the Western world when it comes to other metrics in gender equality, such as labor force participation rate (proportion of women working). Overall, they rank 31st in the UN’s gender inequality index (the U.S. ranks 17th, for reference).

Nonetheless, this development is yet another sign in Arab countries’ slow but sure progression in women’s rights and comes with other recent advancements in women’s rights throughout Arab nations. It comes with other recent developments, like UAE’s sweeping new equal pay law, Saudi Arabia’s laws allowing women to drive, and facilitations in the divorce process throughout the Arab world.

Teen Quotes: What do you think about the UAE’s selection of its first female astronaut?

“It’s so amazing to see progress for women in the field of aeronautics and space exploration, and it’s so gratifying knowing that more than 1/3 of their applicants were women. This just goes to show how much better women’s rights in STEM are improving.” Dhatri Parakal, 15, TJHSST
“It’s really nice to finally see more women in this field, but I feel like we should’ve gotten past the stage of “firsts” by now, women astronauts shouldn’t be new anywhere in the world. At the same time, I think it’s really inspiring and I’m glad that it’s happening now, and I hope [women’s rights] continue to advance in the future.” Niyathi Vadlapatla, 16, TJHSST

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