Space exploration is a symbol of national pride and ambition

May 21, 2023
Space exploration is a symbol of national pride and ambition

Dr. Ghadeer Talal Melibari

There was a time when space travel was the thing of sheer fantasy, confined to novels and Western movie screens.

It is described as “the final frontier” in Star Trek, an American show that was first made in the 1960s.

In the series, the space ship the Starship Enterprise has the mission to “boldly go where no man has gone before”.

Fast forward 60 years and it’s not just a Saudi man boldly going into space, but he will be joined by the first Saudi woman to fly into orbit.

This is perhaps not only a mark of how far technology has come since the 1960s, but also how much Saudi society has changed in the past 10 years alone.

A woman from the Kingdom traveling into space would have seemed pure fantasy not that long ago. It would certainly have seemed impossible in 1985.

Now, breast cancer researcher Rayyanah Barnawi will join F-16 fighter pilot Ali Al-Qarni on another groundbreaking journey, having taken off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

As part of a four person crew, they will spend eight days on the International Space Station, carrying out 20 research projects — 14 developed by Saudi scientists, that range from human physiology and cell biology to technology development.

Perhaps it says everything about the ambition of Saudi both as a society and an aspirational nation, that we are sending a man and woman into space side by side.

Moving beyond the earth’s orbit has always been the measuring stick for the most advanced countries on the planet.

The space race started in the late 1950s, with rivals the USSR and USA competing to outdo the other.

Interest was enhanced in the general public by magazines featuring articles, comic book heroes and shows like Star Trek that followed.

The Russians sent the first human into orbit — Yuri Gagarin in 1957 — while the Americans were first to get a man on the moon in 1969.

As astronaut Neil Armstrong said when he set foot on it: “That’s one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”

In this sense, two Saudis travelling into space is a massive leap forward for our country.

Whereby space exploration was once confined to fantasy, it can be a symbol of our ambition as a country as we race toward Vision 2030 and beyond.

The sky is no longer the limit for our talented youngsters — they can literally aim for the stars now.

May 21, 2023
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