Saudi Arabia will send its first ever woman astronaut on a space mission later this year, state media has reported, in the latest move to revamp the kingdom’s ultra-conservative image. Rayyana Barnawi will join fellow Saudi male astronaut Ali Al-Qarni on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) “during the second quarter of 2023”, the official Saudi Press Agency said on Sunday. The astronauts “will join the crew of the AX-2 space mission” and the space flight will “launch from the USA”, the agency said. The oil-rich country will be following in the footsteps of the neighbouring United Arab Emirates which in 2019 became the first Arab country to send one of its citizens into space. At the time, astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori spent eight days on the ISS. Another fellow Emirati, Sultan al-Neyadi, will also make a voyage later this month. Nicknamed the “Sultan of Space”, 41-year-old Neyadi will become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in space when he blasts off for the ISS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Gulf monarchies have been seeking to diversify their energy-reliant economies through a plethora of projects. Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also been trying to shake off the kingdom’s austere image through a push for reforms. Since his rise to power in 2017, women have been allowed to drive and to travel abroad without a male guardian, and their proportion in the workforce has more than doubled since 2016, from 17 per cent to 37 per cent. Saudi Arabia’s foray into space is not the first, however. In 1985, Saudi royal Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, an airforce pilot, took part in a US-organised space mission, becoming the first Arab Muslim to travel into space. In 2018, Saudi Arabia set up a space programme and last year launched another to send astronauts into space, all part of Prince Salman’s Vision 2030 agenda for economic diversification.