Country: US (Palestine)
“Working with bits and bytes all day is much cooler than you might think,” software engineer Soha Al Qeshawi told Middle East Monitor this year. Based in Houston, Texas, the Palestinian is working on NASA’s Orion spacecraft programme, helping to design and engineer the vessel to transport astronauts into deep space. “I get to simulate Orion missions almost every day, just as if we’re flying in space,” she said. “I test the systems from launch, through flight and back to Earth. If I find any issues, I resolve them and retest to ensure a smooth and safe flight for our future crews.”
Al Qeshawi grew up in Gaza City but studied engineering at the University of Houston at Clear Lake, Texas. Soon after graduation, she began work on NASA’s Space Shuttle programme, which wrapped up in 2011.
“I saw Orion as the new beginning for the next human spaceflight programme and wanted to be a part of it,” she has said. As a senior software engineer working on Orion, Al Qeshawi is responsible for software and hardware integration and testing to ensure the spacecraft’s computer commands perform as expected. NASA launched the first test flight of the spacecraft in December 2014, with crewed missions potentially following in the early 2020s. She has been praised as a positive role model for women in the Middle East and beyond. “My advice to young girls around the world: always have a dream, dream big, and work really hard to make your dream come true. Mine did,” she said.