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Rayyanah Barnawi Is Not the First Arab or Muslim Woman Who Went to Space

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
23rd May 2023
Rayyanah Barnawi Is Not the First Arab or Muslim Woman Who Went to Space
Rayyanah Barnawi is not the first Arab and Muslim woman to go to space (Getty)

The Claim

Rayyanah Barnawi is the first Arab and Muslim woman who went to space. 

Emerging story

Social media users recently shared claims alleging that the Saudi researcher Rayyanah Barnawi is the first Arab and Muslim woman to go to space.

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Others claimed that she is the only Arab and Muslim woman to ever go to space.

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Misbar’s Analysis

Misbar investigated the circulating claim and found it to be misleading. Other Arab and Muslim women went to space before Saudi Arabia’s Rayyanah Barnawi.

First Muslim Woman in Space

Misbar’s team found that Anousheh Ansari, hailing from Mashhad, Iran, and born on September 12, 1966, etched her name in history as the inaugural female civilian to journey into space, marking a series of firsts as a woman of Iranian origin and the Muslim community.

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Photo Description: Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American and the first Muslim woman to travel to space (Photo by NASA in 2005).

A longstanding passion for space exploration had been brewing in Ansari even prior to her stellar venture. In 2002, Ansari, along with her brother-in-law, generously donated a significant sum to the X Prize Foundation. This non-profit entity organizes competitive challenges aimed at fostering human-centric innovation. The munificent donation from the Ansari family served to institute the Ansari X Prize. This coveted award offered a prize purse of $10 million to the first privately held entity to successfully launch a reusable spacecraft with a crew into space twice within a fortnight. The accolade was claimed by Scaled Composites, a Californian aerospace development firm, in 2004, with their visionary vehicle, SpaceShipOne, envisioned by American aircraft designer Burt Rutan.

Ansari's opportunity to traverse the cosmos came through Space Adventures, Ltd., a company dedicated to promoting space tourism. Although the specifics of the agreement were not disclosed, it was estimated that Ansari's investment in this remarkable journey was around $20 million. In the early months of 2006, Ansari began her rigorous astronaut training in Star City, Russia, initially as a standby for Japanese businessman Enomoto Daisuke. When Enomoto was medically deemed unfit to participate in the mission, Ansari stepped in to fill the role on the flight crew of Soyuz TMA-9.

On September 18, 2006, Ansari rocketed into the cosmos alongside commander Mikhail Tyurin from Russia and flight engineer Michael Lopez-Alegria from the United States. After two days, they joined  the International Space Station (ISS) where Ansari contributed to a series of experiments on human physiology under the auspices of the European Space Agency. Furthermore, she made her presence felt on Iranian national television via a space-based interview for an astronomy program, in addition to blogging from space - a first of its kind achievement.

Ansari's safe return to Earth took place on September 29, 2006, onboard the Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft, landing in Kazakhstan. Post her cosmic sojourn, Ansari reverted to her entrepreneurial roots. In the same year, she co-founded Prodea Systems, a company specializing in Internet of Things technology, where she assumed the role of the inaugural CEO. She penned her life journey in an autobiography titled, "My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer." 

First Arab Woman in Space

After conducting a thorough research, Misbar’s team found that the Egyptian Sara Sabry holds the title of being the first Arab and African female to venture into the cosmos. She is a recognized voice in discussions of space technology, leadership, and entrepreneurship, often sharing her experiences of overcoming adversity and how her space voyage has fundamentally altered her worldview.

As the Founder and Executive Director of Deep Space Initiative (DSI), Sabry is dedicated to democratizing access to space and fostering opportunities in this pioneering field. DSI's vision is to eliminate the metaphorical borders that restrict research and education, making them accessible to everyone, irrespective of nationality or resources.

A passionate advocate for greater representation, especially of Egyptian women in the space sector, Sabry aims to inspire the next generation to expand their horizons. In line with this mission, she co-founded the Space Ambassador Program alongside the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA) and served as the first Astronaut Health & Performance Space Ambassador. Sabry's collaborations with EgSA include numerous high-profile projects such as the establishment of Africa's inaugural analog research station. 

Rayyanah Barnawi: The First Arab Woman in Space

Rayyanah Barnawi, a Saudi Arabian breast cancer researcher, has embarked on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). Accompanying her on the Sunday mission was Ali al-Qarni, a fellow Saudi and a fighter pilot. This launch is noteworthy as it's the first time Saudi astronauts have ventured into space in several decades. Barnawi has become the first Saudi woman to ever go to space.

The voyage was initiated via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the United States, launching at 5:37pm local time (21:37 GMT). The crew also includes Peggy Whitson, a seasoned NASA astronaut on her fourth flight to the ISS, and John Shoffner, a Tennessee businessman serving as the pilot.

The team is set to arrive at the space station by Monday morning, where they will stay for slightly over a week before making their way back to Earth, landing off the coast of Florida. After entering orbit, Barnawi expressed her awe and delight at observing Earth from space.

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