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The UAE may soon announce its first female astronaut, as the country inches closer to announcing its next two astronauts.

Five women and nine men are vying for the coveted roles – in the race to the second batch of Mohamed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s (MBRSC) UAE Astronaut Programme for the future crewed space flights.

Out of the total 4,300 applicants for the UAE Astronaut Programme, 1,400 are Emirati women in this batch, that’s about 250 more than in 2018.

These two new astronauts will be recruited to UAE’s growing astronaut corps, which already includes Maj Hazza Al Mansouri and Dr Sultan Al Neyadi, according to a news report.

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Speaking to Khaleej Times, Salem Al Marri, head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, had affirmed that the next Emirati astronaut to head into space could very well be a woman.

He said: “Women bring something very different to the table and to the human space life and having a well-rounded programme definitely requires that we have diversity in gender. But our selection criterion is not based on gender; it’s based on quality and the best and brightest.”

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For its first batch of UAE astronauts, the MBRSC had shortlisted candidates in their mid-30s. But this time, they lowered the age limit.

Meanwhile, at the MBRSC, 42 per cent of the workforce consists of Emirati women. Their milestone projects consist of a high women employment rate, including 70 per cent in UAE’s Astronaut Programme and 34 per cent in the Hope Mars Mission.

Involved in the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), the science team of the mission has 80 per cent female, who are analysing the incoming data that is being received from the Hope probe.

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Women have continuously ascended to historic new heights in space exploration, with the first woman to travel to space in 1963 and the first female space station commander in 2008.

More recently, the first all-female spacewalk in 2019, with two of Al Mansoori’s crewmates on the International Space Station (ISS), were Christina Koch and Jessica Meir.

Koch also set the record for the single longest spaceflight by a woman, after she spent 328 days on the ISS