RIYADH: Saudi astronauts Ali Alqarni, Rayyanah Barnawi, Ali Al-Ghamdi and Mariam Fardous told an audience of 250 Mawhiba students in Riyadh on Monday about their incredible career journeys and experiences in space. Another 6,000 young people from Shoroq Almarefah School, Alrowad Ezdehar School, the Smart Learning School, and Riyadh Schools watched them online.
The aim of the event, organized by the Saudi Space Agency and Mawhiba, more formally known as the King Salman and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, was to raise awareness of the space sector among the next generation of potential professionals, forge relationships between current and future scientists, and open up new horizons for the future of space exploration in the Kingdom for gifted students.
The astronauts spoke about the paths that led to their pioneering roles, from their schooldays to their involvement with the Saudi Space Agency. They discussed the professional journeys that led them there, including their backgrounds in fields such as the military, the medical profession and laboratory studies, and their experiences during space missions.
“When I entered Mawhiba today, I got emotional as I was picked by Mawhiba as one of the gifted students but, due to transportation issues, I was not able to attend the programs then,” said Al-Ghamdi.
“But you guys are lucky, with the availability of public transportation today and the fact that there are online classes and programs available, too.”
Amal Al-Hazzaa, Mawhiba’s secretary-general, said that the Kingdom has long aspired to cultivate a generation of scientists, talented individuals and creative leaders who can drive change and progress, and help the nation to compete globally in the field of space and astronomy.
During Monday’s session, the astronauts discussed a number of scientific topics to help enhance students’ understanding of space science and its various fields.
Barnawi and Alqarni, who spent eight days on the International Space Station in May, explained the 14 scientific experiments they conducted there, highlighting the ways in which they are contributing to the advancement of scientific knowledge and advanced research across various specializations.
Speaking about the young people that attended the event on Monday, Barnawi, the first Saudi female astronaut and the first Arab woman in space, said: “I was honored to meet them, and they were my inspiration when I worked as a research laboratory specialist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, as I trained some Mawhiba students then.
“They always asked the most difficult and smart questions and were full of curiosity. They even inspired me to further study and to take my master’s degree.”
Al-Ghamdi and Fardous were the back-up crew on the Axiom Mission 2 that took Barnawi and Alqarni to the International Space Station.
Each year, the Mawhiba Multiple Cognitive Aptitude Test identifies particularly gifted students, who are given the chance to enroll in specialized classes to nurture and develop their exceptional talents.