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First Egyptian, Arab woman to go to space recounts her journey

Sara Sabry, the first Egyptian, Arab and African woman to travel into space, told Al-Monitor about her trip, the dangers she felt and her future plans in this field.
Sara Sabry is seen in this photo taken on Aug. 4, 2022.

CAIRO — Sara Sabry, executive director and founder of Deep Space Initiative, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase accessibility in the space field, became the first Egyptian, Arab and African woman to travel into space in August.

She told Al-Monitor about her journey into space. 

“I was selected out of over 7,000 applicants from 160 countries as part of the Space for Humanity Citizen Astronaut Program to become the first Egyptian person to go into space, alongside a group of exceptional leaders to experience the Overview Effect,” Sabry said.

She explained, “The citizen astronauts had to commit upon their return to share this experience for the common good, as the program is looking for change-makers from all walks of life.”

Space for Humanity had launched in 2021 a program to send citizens from all parts of the world and all backgrounds into space to experience the Overview Effect, which is the cognitive shift that some astronauts experience when seeing the Earth from space. 

“I took advantage of the three minutes I spent in space to take a good look at the Earth. The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during space flights. Scientists noticed an effect on the brains of astronauts when looking down at the Earth from space, as the planet is seen as a single organism and you don't see the borders that separate countries,” Sabry noted.

She added, “The Overview Effect is the experience of seeing the reality of the Earth from space, which is immediately understood to be a small, fragile ball of life, suspended in the void, protected and nourished by a thin envelope. From space, national borders disappear, and the conflicts that divide people become less important, while the need to create a planetary community with a united will to protect this 'pale blue dot' becomes both clear and necessary,” she added.

Speaking about the risks of the journey, Sabry said, “Sitting in a capsule atop a rocket involves risks and the participants are warned prior to making their decisions. This experience has changed me because I feel that I have accepted the idea of death more.”

She continued, “The reusable booster New Shepard [manufactured by Blue Origin] is launched into space at unbelievable speeds, and we experience a tremendous G acceleration force inside the capsule during launch and landing, so it requires a great physical effort.”

“The technology developed by Blue Origin has a lot of backup support, but the experience puts the participant's life in their hands,” she said.

Sabry’s journey into space reaffirmed her commitment to using her experience to change the world for the better. “When I saw the Earth from space, and the expansion of the black universe, I realized that Earth and space are not separate — the Earth is part space, and we humans are part of it. We seek to try to explore and understand it and push humanity forward,” she explained.

She added, “It is difficult for non-Europeans and non-Americans to enter the space field, so I worked to provide training for various people through the Deep Space Initiative, which aims to increase opportunities in the field of space and enable deep space exploration for all of humanity. It also coordinates with professionals from different nationalities to encourage them to enter this field, and I have received great support from people at NASA and in Europe.”

Speaking about her cooperation with the Egyptian Space Agency, Sabry noted that she is a co-founder of the space ambassador program, and she is coordinating with the agency in several projects, including the construction of the first analog research station in Africa.

Sabry is working on getting her doctoral degree in space sciences from the University of North Dakota in the United States, and she plans to obtain a private pilot license, hoping to partake in an orbital mission and spend some time doing research there, to continue her journey to the moon and eventually to Mars.

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