The Saudi Space Commission announced on Sunday that it will be sending two astronauts to participate in the Axiom AX-2 space mission later this year, one of whom will be the first woman astronaut in space from the kingdom.

Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi will be part of a 10-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS), together with fellow Saudi astronaut, Ali Al-Qarni, former NASA astronaut, Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, a businessman from Tennessee.

Two more astronauts, Mariam Fardous and Ali Al Gamdi, are also being trained on all mission requirements and will backup crew members on the same mission, which is expected to launch in May 2023.

Saudi Arabia is following the United Arab Emirates, which became the first Arab nation to send an astronaut to space in 2019, when it launched UAE  astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori to the ISS for eight days.

Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has been trying to improve the kingdom’s image with various programs and reforms, including allowing women to drive.

The Saudi Astronaut Program, which launched in September last year, is part of the kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan.

According to Saudi Space Commission Chairman Abdullah Alswaha, the kingdom is counting on the astronaut program to enhance its position in the global space and exploration community.

The current program is designed to train Saudi astronauts to conduct space flights, participate in scientific experiments, international research and future space-related tasks.

The mission is being operated by the private firm Axiom Space, which flew its first private crew to the ISS in 2022 during  its AX-1 mission.

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