Last year, Sara Sabry made history when she became the first Egyptian, the first Arab woman and the first African woman in space.
With a background in engineering and bioastronautics she was chosen by the non-profit Space for Humanity to join five other space tourists aboard a Blue Origin NS-22 sub-orbital space flight in August 2022.
Now pursuing a Ph.D. in aerospace sciences at the University of North Dakota, the 30-year-old says she came to the realization that in space research, “very few opportunities exist if you’re not from the West.” In response, she founded Deep Space Initiative, a Colorado-based non-profit that aims to increase access to the space industry for people of all backgrounds, by providing opportunities for research and education.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Sabry: I got the call on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years since the first humans landed on the moon so it’s a very special day for me. Coming from where I come from, and thinking it was always going to be impossible, it was difficult to process, but it’s something I hold with a lot of responsibility.
Sabry: It’s the most exciting thing I have ever experienced. When you lift off, you feel this engine igniting beneath you, and very quickly, the sky turns from light blue to darker blue to purple and then black, and that’s the only thing telling you that you’re in space. It was beautiful and I was in awe. I think it’s the most liberating feeling anyone can experience.
Sabry: It was very confusing, because we have not biologically evolved to see Earth from space. We tend to look at space as if it’s something that’s so far away and separate from Earth but it’s not. I think realizing that, when it clicks, it really does break your reality, and your understanding of the world changes. For me personally, it has changed a lot more than I thought it would in terms of the scale of the world and how interconnected everything is.
Sabry: The more I got involved with the space field, the more problems I saw, and very few opportunities exist if you’re not from the West, if you’re not a US citizen or if you’re not European. My company allows people from different nationalities to work on those problems from different perspectives. Currently, we have around 205 people from 28 different nationalities working on 53 space projects, which is really cool to see.
Sabry: Deep Space Initiative has been running several research programs, and it’s exciting to see the quality of work that comes from these groups that would not have otherwise had the opportunity to work on this. They’re incredibly intelligent, incredibly qualified people to be conducting this research, but you can see how all they needed was this opportunity. All they needed was for someone to believe in them. I hope that this initiative provides this belief to a lot more people around the world.
Sabry: By limiting the opportunities that exist for people of certain nationalities, we are also limiting how many problems we’re able to solve, and the progress that can be made in a specific field. As for representation, it shows you anything is possible. Becoming an astronaut was not something I dreamed about as a child because it wasn’t something I was exposed to, and we were always told it wasn’t for us. Having representation says “someone else has done this, and you can too.”
Sabry: When I was sitting in that rocket, I wasn’t flying to space alone, I was taking my country and my continent with me. It really felt like a step forward not just for me personally but for a lot of other people. For them to be able to have that representation, to see that things are possible even though we’re told it’s not. I wake up every morning and I make all my decisions to serve that purpose. I have dedicated my life for this mission.