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In the UAE, Women Reach for the Stars … And the Cosmos

March 7, 2024

By Nora AlMatrooshi, Astronaut, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre

As I stand on the brink of a new chapter, having completed my training with NASA's Astronaut Candidate Class at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, I am not just ready; I am inspired. This journey has transformed me by equipping me with the skills and resilience required to embark on missions to explore our solar system and beyond. It's a testament to the human spirit's ability to reach for the stars and realize the dreams that once seemed distant. 

The culmination of this intense preparation marks not the end, but the beginning of an extraordinary adventure into the unknown, where I'll have the privilege of contributing to humanity's understanding of space. This achievement is not solely mine but a beacon of hope and inspiration for women in STEM fields, affirming that the path to the stars is open to all who dare to dream big and work tirelessly towards their goals.

One of the most demanding aspects of my training involved spacewalk training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. I learned to navigate the complexities of working outside a spacecraft. The physical and mental demands of operating in a simulated space environment, while ensuring precise movements and tasks are completed, was a profound challenge, but it was exhilarating to push my limits and expand my capabilities in such a unique setting.

Living in Houston and integrating with my American colleagues over the past two years has been an enriching cultural exchange. The warmth and camaraderie at Johnson Space Center have made Houston feel like a second home. The openness and inclusivity I found every step of the way is a testament to the cultural sharing and personal connections that have deepened throughout my time here.

The UAE’s astronauts’ participation in NASA’s program also marks a significant leap in UAE-US space collaboration, emphasizing a shared vision for space exploration and scientific advancement. This partnership doesn't just bridge our nations, it also propels the UAE onto the global space exploration stage, heralding a new era of international cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge, discovery and exploration.

As the first female Emirati astronaut, I feel a deep responsibility to inspire young women and girls interested in space and STEM fields. I encourage them to nurture their curiosity, embrace challenges, look for opportunities and never underestimate their potential. The path to space exploration is paved with perseverance, and every setback is actually an opportunity in disguise serving as a steppingstone to achieving your dreams.

This sentiment is embodied in the UAE, where women have taken on pivotal roles, since its founding, in STEM and every other field. They contribute significantly to our nation’s advancements in space exploration and beyond. For instance, at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), women form a substantial part of the workforce and play key roles in ambitious projects like the Zayed Ambition Mission, Emirates Mars Mission and the UAE Satellite Program, among others.

Challenges are an inherent part of any journey. They build resilience and highlight the importance of self-belief in overcoming obstacles. I am deeply inspired by trailblazing women in the space field, from pioneers at MBRSC to luminaries in the field of spaceflight like Sally K Ride, Peggy Whitson, Valentina Tereshkova and many more. Their groundbreaking achievements have paved the way for future generations, including myself, to dream bigger and reach further.

My journey from dreaming of space in a classroom to training at NASA represents more than just personal achievement. It embodies the aspirations, drive and capabilities of young Arab women and the boundless possibilities that await us in the cosmos. Together, let us dare to dream, explore and inspire. The universe is not just a frontier to be explored, but a canvas for our collective ambitions and hopes.

Discover how UAE-US collaboration is leading advancements in space exploration here.