Tunisian space dream come true. After sending its first satellite in March, Tunisia signs a contract with Russia to send its first female astronaut, a woman, into space. An exclusive interview with Mohamed Freika, Managing Director of the Tunisian satellite manufacturer Telnet, and Tarek Ben Salem, the Tunisian ambassador in Moscow.
After the launch of Tunisia’s first 100% satellite last March to the International Space Station using the Russian Soyuz shuttle, Jasmine Land is ramping up its space ambitions, still in the framework of its partnership with Moscow. On August 13, Tunisia came a little closer to realizing its space dream: sending the first Tunisian astronaut into space. It is an agreement concluded Friday in Moscow between this Maghreb country and the Russian space agency Roscosmos that gives these precise objective lines. In an interview with Sputnik, Mohamed Freika, managing director of the Tunisian satellite manufacturer Telnet Holding, and Tarek Bensalem, the Tunisian ambassador to Moscow, expressed their hope to see the Tunisian astronaut in space at the end of 2022.
Sputnik: Why did you choose the Russian program?
Mohamed Freika, Managing Director of Telnet: Relations with Russia began two years ago with the launch of the first Tunisian satellite, the first challenge. We sent it with the Soyuz 2 space shuttle. This choice was made, because we see that this shuttle has a very good success rate with very advantageous transmission conditions. This was the starting point for our relations with the Russian Space Agency. The agreement signed today [13 août, ndlr] Sending a Tunisian astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) is just a continuation. This agreement was signed by me and Mr. Dmitry Rogozin, General Director of Roscosmos and President Putin’s Special Representative for Space. Tunisian President Kais Saied spoke via video link from the presidential palace in Carthage, Tunisia.
Sputnik: After sending the first satellite, Tunisia will thus send the first astronaut into space. Far from developing the space sector, isn’t the goal also to make young Tunisians dream, by making them feel that their country is now also participating in the space race?
Mohamed Frikha: completely. Tunisia wants to be a platform for space in Africa and the Arab world. As Tunisians, we want to participate with all Terrans in space research. Important. It gives hope to young people, and it also gives a sense of responsibility. Because Tunisia, even as a small country, without natural resources, is full of skills and mental capabilities. We are able to participate in space-related discoveries, which are of interest to all of humanity, with developed countries such as Russia, USA, Europe, Japan and all countries participating in the International Space Station.
Tarek Ben Salem, Ambassador of Tunisia to Moscow: Today is August 13th. This date coincides with Tunisian Women’s Day. Tunisian women have had a special place in the Arab world since August 13, 1956, a symbolic date. It highlights the role that women play in Tunisian society. So there are two dreams connected in this agreement. Obviously, the first is to send a Tunisian astronaut. The second is that this astronaut is a woman. In honor of Tunisian women, this proposal came directly from the President of the Republic after the successful transmission of the first Tunisian satellite, Challenge One, entirely manufactured by local engineers. This success gave this idea to the President of the Republic to move forward, to realize this dream, which is today the training of Russia and Roscosmos for the first Tunisian cosmonaut. We all hope that this double dream will come true in the best possible circumstances, according to the roadmap that Mr. Mohamed Freika will be interested in preparing with Roscosmos.
Sputnik: Do you already have details of the training and dispatch times for the first astronaut?
Mohamed Frikha: As the agreement was signed today, meetings will be held on Monday to define the roadmap. By the end of the year, we must define selection criteria, receive applications and select a pool of potential candidates. This group will be formed, and will follow the necessary training and training, until at least the first half of 2022. We then select two young women, a manager and an assistant. The mission should be fulfilled at the end of 2022 or in 2023.
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