UAE’s Nora makes history as first Arab woman to graduate from NASA’s astronaut training programme

Nora Al Matrooshi, the UAE’s pioneering female astronaut, and her colleague Mohammed Al Mulla, a former Dubai Police helicopter pilot, completed their training at NASA’s facility in Houston, Texas on March 5, 2024, alongside 11 American astronaut candidates as part of the NASA astronaut class of 2023.

Reflecting on her achievement, Nora expressed, “I think that it proves that Arab women have the capabilities, and they are able to represent the Arab world in different sectors and fields,” to The National.

Nora’s selection by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) in 2021, based on her background in mechanical engineering and experience in the oil industry, paved the way for her rigorous training at NASA. Over two years of intense preparation, including simulated spacewalks, Nora Al Matrooshi, along with her Emirati counterpart Mohammad, has emerged as a certified astronaut.

As the first Arab woman to graduate from NASA’s training program, Nora has fulfilled her childhood dream of space travel. Now, she shifts her focus to lunar exploration, crediting a pivotal elementary lesson for igniting her passion for space and driving her towards a career in astronautics with the aim of reaching the moon.

As a member of the cohort dubbed ‘the files,’ Nora Al Matrooshi is now qualified for NASA missions to the International Space Station (ISS), Artemis lunar missions, and potentially Mars expeditions.

Expressing a commitment to advancing space exploration, Nora Al Matrooshi aims to join missions beyond the moon, reflecting the UAE’s dedication.

She addresses the challenge of maintaining her Muslim faith while meeting NASA’s uniform requirements by using a specially crafted hijab for space missions.

Prepared in her tailored space suit, Nora Al Matrooshi is ready to embark on space missions with her fellow astronauts, advancing humanity’s pursuit of lunar exploration.

Reflecting on her astronaut journey, she acknowledges the historical contributions of her ancestors and Muslim scholars to space exploration, viewing her achievement as a continuation of their legacy.

Nora Al Matrooshi said “I first started dreaming of becoming an astronaut when my teacher in kindergarten asked us to build a tent and pretend it was a spacecraft that was taking us to the Moon. Since then I’ve become extremely passionate about becoming an astronaut,”

“I’ve been working in the oil and gas field for several years, but my dream of becoming an astronaut never went away. This is a life-changing opportunity. The dream I’ve had since a child has come true. Now, I’ve started dreaming bigger.”

The 2023 astronaut class patch from NASA showcases both US and UAE flags, shaped like a fly. It depicts an astronaut reaching for the Moon, with Mars in the background, symbolizing NASA’s aim for human presence on the Moon and eventual Mars exploration under the Artemis program.

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