Building on her popular Instagram page, Rocket engineer Diana Alsindy is writing a children’s book in Arabic to make space and science accessible to young readers
Diana Alsindy’s parents were horrified when they heard she wanted to be a rocket engineer. In Arabic, the word for rocket, ‘sarokh’ doesn’t refer to spacecraft. “It means missiles,” she says. But this only reinforced her desire to succeed in the sector and prove that a young Iraqi female could unravel the mysteries of space. What’s more, she wanted to take others along for the ride, making information about science and space available in Arabic through her Instagram channel @TheArabianStargazer.
“In English, if you research how rockets work, all these amazing animations come up on YouTube, but that doesn’t exist in Arabic so it made me want to start.” All she could find in her native language was a video of an elderly man reading from a textbook about space. “We don’t even have the vocabulary in Arabic…. If I need to say the word rocket I have to elaborate to say ‘peaceful missile to explore space.”
So she launched @TheArabianStargazer in 2018, filling the gap for Arabic audiences eager to learn more about science, space, technology, and engineering. Within a week she had over 20,000 followers and an inbox full of comments and questions – most of them praising her achievements. There were a few critical voices undermining her ambitions with misogynistic remarks about staying in the kitchen, but “they just make my work and purpose – targeting a specific audience that otherwise isn’t reached – seem all the more important,” Alsindy says.
Growing up in Iraq, space wasn’t even on her radar. “I never wanted to be an astronaut, I didn’t know it existed.” It was only when her family immigrated to the US in 2008 and she learned about space exploration in school that Alsindy decided to pursue a career in rocketry. “More than half the world doesn’t have access to this kind of information so we’re not utilizing the talent of people that don’t speak English…. There’s so much that could be achieved with that diversity of thought,” she says.
An undergraduate internship with NASA gave her experience in building satellites and the exposure she needed to launch her career in an industry that seemed inaccessible. Then, after graduating from the University of California, San Diego, she landed a job with Virgin Orbit, followed by Boeing in California and her career grew from there. Now 28, she works as a New Glenn rocket propulsion engineer for Blue Origin, a rocket that will take millions of people and satellites to space, owned by Jeff Bezos. “It’s very cool to work for a company that has already taken humans to space,” she says.
An Arab Woman in Space?
It’s still a male-dominated field – most of her meetings and calls are with men – but Alsindy wants to use her Instagram account to inspire more young women to join the sector, and more people from the Arab world to pursue careers in space. “If there is one person who realizes how cool it is to work in the space industry and can take those ideas and integrate them in their own Arab country, that would be the dream. I hope one day to hear that there’s an Iraqi space agency or even a Palestinian space agency.”
In the meantime, she is working on a children’s book so that more young people in the Arab world are exposed to space and science from an early age. That’s where Ideas Beyond Borders comes in. “I heard Melissa Chen, co-founder of Ideas Beyond Borders talking on a podcast and I thought, that’s amazing, that’s what I’m trying to do!” So she reached out and secured an Innovation Hub grant from IBB to hire illustrators and finalize the book.
“Diana is inspiring young people with insights into a world that has been beyond reach for many Arabic speakers. She is making space and science accessible, sharing her knowledge so that the next generation will have better opportunities,” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Founder and President of Ideas Beyond Borders.
Alsindy regularly receives messages from young people who follow her Instagram page. Soon after launching The Arabian Stargazer, a female student got in touch to say she was inspired by the content. A year later she messaged Alsindy from her dormitory at Stanford University. “It was a surreal moment because she shared that I motivated her to apply to Stanford and pursue her dreams.”