(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Stargazing in Unayzah desert, Saudi national Mishaal Ashemimry was just six years old when she knew that exploring space is her path.
To feed her curiosity, she decided to learn how to build space vehicles that will enable her to explore and visit space.
Today, Ashemimry is the first female aerospace engineer in the GCC at the age of 34. Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Knowledge Summit 2018, US-based Ashemimry said she's currently working on getting her pilot's licence before applying to the astronaut's programme to become the first Saudi female astronaut.
"That's the plan; to go to space and explore other planets and resources available in space that we can bring and utilise on earth," said Ashemimry. She noted that the space environment is crucial to explore new technologies that would help advance science, medicine and education.
"The space environment has no gravity, which enables us to produce different and new protein strains that can be used in medicines to cure different illnesses. Space is the future, which is why we see the UAE and the GCC in general starting to invest in it," said Ashemimry.
While based in Miami, Florida, she founded Mishaal Aerospace at the age of 26 to pursue her ultimate dream of building rockets. Her company's objective was to design and build their own rockets to launch small satellites (500kg or less) to Low Earth Orbit.
Putting the company on hold since 2014 for the lack of investors in the high-risk and costly business of making rockets, Ashemimry feels the enormous responsibility that comes with her title. After being a consultant in her field, she is now dedicating her time to inspire the youth to join space and other STEM programmes through social media platforms and global talks.
Previously, she worked for Raytheon Missile Systems' Aerodynamics Department and contributed to 22 different rocket programmes.
Ashemimry said her main message to the youth is taking risks and being ready to fail. As a woman, she said gender is an illusionary challenge that people put on themselves. "Investors in space projects look at the proposal. They don't care whether the applicant is male or female. It's all about the idea."
She noted that technical failure is a necessity in space projects to enable people to learn how to avoid a certain aspect of a project.
"Take risks and don't be afraid to fail because failure is the seed from which success grows," said Ashemimry.
In reference to the first UAE-manufactured satellite Khalifasat that was launched to space on October 29, Ashemimry said she hopes to see more GCC-manufactured rockets in space.
She referred to the UAE's move towards space interest as a "great step" to encourage more countries in the Middle East to invest in space, especially with 40 per cent of women researchers joining the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. "We don't see this number of women participation in European countries that has been in space for decades. It makes the UAE a pioneer in this aspect," said Ashemimry.
Sherouk Zakaria "Born and raised in UAE, Sherouk Zakaria is a Senior Correspondent at Khaleej Times. Joined since May 2016, she covers Dubai Municipality, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), special events and humanitarian issues. Her choice of journalism as a career stems from her passion of telling people's stories and writing to inspire or make a difference. In her free time, she's an occasional theater and film actress. Sherouk received her BA in Mass Communications from the American University in Sharjah in 2013. Before joining Khaleej Times, she was a senior lifestyle/entertainment editor for a magazine in Dubai."