A huge step for Arab Emirates takes the first female astronaut with hijab

Nora Al Matrousi is preparing to make history as the first woman of whom she is ready to conquer space. Al Matrousi became the first female astronaut of Arab descent to complete NASA’s educational program and is now ready to travel from the United Arab Emirates to the universe… 30-year-old Al Matrousi recalls a lesson about space when she went to Elementary, in which the teacher simulated a mission on the surface of the Moon, with space costumes of crafts and a children’s scene in the rocket shape. “We got off the stage and saw that (the teacher) had turned off the lights in the classroom. He had covered everything with gray fabric and told us that we were on the surface of the Moon,” says Al Matrousi in AFP. “This day affected me, it had a great impact on me. And I remember thinking ‘It’s amazing. This I really want to do, I really want to go to the Moon’s surface. And that’s when it all started,” recalls Al Matrousi, dressed in the blue space uniform where her name is on it and the flag of the United Arab Emirates is sewn. Al Matrousi, a mechanical engineer who has worked in the oil industry, was one of two nominated female astronauts selected in 2021 by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) to participate in an American space service NASA training program. Today, after two years of hard work – among them and practice in spacewalks – h Al Matrousi, Mohammed Al Mula’s compatriot and ten others from the same training program, are fully certified astronauts. Their team can now participate in NASA missions at the International Space Station (ISS), the Artemis program (S.T.S.: a manned space flight program led by NASA to explore the Moon) and, if all goes well, it can even reach Mars. “I want to give further impetus to humanity. I want humanity to go to the Moon and beyond. And I want to participate in this journey,” says Al Matrousi. Although she is the first graduate of NASA of Arab origin, other women have already participated in private space missions, including Saudi biomedical researcher Rajana Barnawi, who last year went to the International Space Station with Axiom Space and Egyptian engineer Sarah Sabri from flight crew in 2022 with American billionaire Jeff Bezos. Special-built space hijab Al Matrousi, who as a Muslim wears hijab (Muslim head cover), explains that NASA developed a strategy to allow her to have her hair covered in yet at the same time wearing the white space uniform and helmet, known as EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). “When you wear EMU you wear a communication cap, equipped with microphones and speakers, which … covers the hair,” he says. The problem arises from the moment Al Matrousi takes off her hijab to put on the communication mask. And it is further complicated because only certain approved materials can be worn through the EMU. “The costume mechanics ended up sewing a special hijab for me, which I can wear from the inside, then wearing the uniform, then the communication cap and when I take it off my hair is covered. I appreciate what they did for me so much,” he points out. In her special-built uniform, Al Matrousi will be ready to go into space with her fellow astronauts. NASA plans the first U.S. mission landing, Artemis 3, in 2026. “I think it’s hard to become an astronaut, regardless of your religion or background. I don’t think it’s harder to be a Muslim. But because I am a Muslim I realized the contribution of my ancestors, Muslim university and scientists who preceded me and studied the stars. Being an astronaut is the evolution of what they started thousands and thousands of years ago,” concludes the astronaut speaking to AFP.