The story of Rayyanah Barnawi, Saudi Arabia’s first woman in space, goes beyond her historic journey to the International Space Station.
- Her mission on the ISS involves conducting research on stem cells and breast cancer in the unique conditions of weightlessness.
- Her engagement with children has the power to ignite curiosity and shape a new generation while aligning with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 objectives of promoting community development and advancing scientific pursuits.
Right now, the International Space Station (ISS) is orbiting the Earth 400 kilometres above our heads with an astronaut who, six years ago, wasn’t allowed to drive a car even one kilometre.
The world’s media would like to claim this fact as the big story behind Rayyanah Barnawi’s adventure as Saudi’s first woman in space.
But it’s not the big story. Not by a long shot.
The big story lies in the future, not in the past.
And here’s why.
Rayyanah Barnawi has been researching stem cells and breast cancer for ten years at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. Although referred to as one of four passengers on the SpaceX taxi ride to the ISS, she became a mission specialist as soon as she
moved through the airlock to the space station. And her mission is to research her specialty in what is now considered by the medical sector to be the perfect research conditions: weightlessness. NASA has been championing this practice since the days of the first space shuttle in 1981. The data accrued has been invaluable in understanding cancer, diabetes, tissue atrophy amongst many other afflictions.
But also during her time in orbit, Rayyanah will be chatting to thousands of children earthside, in Saudi Arabia and the gulf region. She’ll be sharing
What it’s like to float around weightlessly, some interesting facts about the importance of what she’s doing, and the best thing of all – if you’re a kid (actually, even if you’re not), is the view Rayyanah of the Earth will be revealing from up there.
The Only Home We Know
Because when you look at the Earth from that high, there are no borders. There’s just a home, a community of life forces which may, or may not, be the only one in the universe. If my language has suddenly turned a bit flowery, it’s because the view of our planet when seen in real time never fails to leave an indelible and profound impression of the importance of our shared fate, and a visceral reminder of the need for sustainability in all forms.
The research Rayyanah will complete will have incalculable benefits for
the hospital and research center where she has worked. Her experience
as a mission specialist astronaut will be priceless to the Saudi Space Commission. But her interaction with the children in the region during that mission may prove to be the most valuable aspect of all. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is more community and upliftment-driven than the other ‘Visions’ in the gulf region. To have an entire generation of children awakened with a hunger for science, a thirst for adventure and a realization that it is not a dream, well, that’s the real deal.
Rayyanah Barnawi, Saudi’s first woman in space, will be a hero for generations to come.
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