The UAE is celebrating International Women’s Day a little early this year with news of the first female Emirati astronaut set to graduate from NASA.

Nora Al Matrooshi, NASA class of 2023, will graduate in March 2024 alongside her Emirati counterpart Mohammed Al Mulla, the National reports. The ceremony will take place in Houston, Texas.

Al Matrooshi, an engineer formerly of the National Petroleum Construction Co., was one of two candidates chosen from over 4,000 applicants for the 2021 NASA training program.

When she was initially selected, Al Matrooshi in a media conference said she was inspired to reach for the stars by one of her teachers who would set up a tent in the classroom and ask the students to try to imagine it was a spacecraft en route to the moon.

In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova of Russia became the first woman in space, but the next wasn’t until two decades later.

In 2020, reported that only 11.5 percent of the 566 people who have gone to space were women, and the United Nations Space4Women program reports that 20-22 percent of the space workforce is women – virtually unchanged from what it was 30 years ago.

But the flight crews are increasing in female numbers and Al Matrooshi aims to be an inspiration for other young women: “If I can do it, then you can do it too. If no one has done it yet, then you just go ahead and be the first,” she said in a 2021 interview with The National.

This brings the Emirati astronaut count to four as the UAE space program grows and continues to rack up firsts.

CAPTION: International Space Station IMAGE: NASA

The first Emirati astronaut, Hazza al Mansouri, spent eight days aboard the International Space Station in 2022, followed by Sultan Al Neyadi with a six-month stay in 2023 and first Arab space walk.

Al Matrooshi’s graduation coincides with the most recent advancement in the UAE’s space program – a ticket to the moon.

The UAE recently agreed to provide NASA with an airlock for the Gateway lunar station, which will serve as an exchange center for crew and science payloads. The deal comes with UAE access to the station and a lunar mission. The deal comes with UAE access to the station and a lunar mission.

No decisions have been made about which UAE astronauts will be selected for the first UAE lunar mission.

According to NASA, the Lunar Gateway will record its first mission no sooner than 2028.

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