How Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi made his acting debut in long-running cartoon Freej

Series creator Mohammed Saeed Harib tells The National how the episode was being planned even before Al Neyadi blasted off – and reveals Umm Saeed joined him in space

Sultan Al Neyadi, the second astronaut from the UAE to go into space, appears in the sixth season of Freej. Photo: Freej
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Emirati astronaut Dr Sultan Al Neyadi has made an appearance on the animated TV show Freej.

Appointed Minister of State for Youth Affairs in January, Al Neyadi's appearance on the children's series aims to inspire a new generation about space exploration.

“I share with you this episode of the cartoon series Freej, entitled Universe of Ambition, which I recorded with my brother Hazza, during which we talked about astronaut missions and exploration,” Al Neyadi tweeted.

“To all our children who are passionate about space, this episode is for you, and the future of space exploration is for you as well.”

His acting debut aired in the finale of the show's sixth season on MBC Shahid this week. However, the idea was one of the first that series creator Mohammed Saeed Harib had for the new season, he tells The National.

"Before we had even signed a contract for a new season, we knew we wanted to do an episode about space, so we approached the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, just before Sultan Al Neyadi was about to embark on his six-month mission into orbit," Harib says.

"They really saw the fun in it. He understood that science should not be very rigid, and make it a part of culture."

In the space-themed episode, made with the help of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, Al Neyadi appears on screen to share a brief message, before the cartoon cuts to footage filmed by Al Neyadi himself on the International Space Station, featuring a plush doll of one of the show's lead characters, Umm Saeed, floating in space.

"After our meeting, I pushed my luck a bit," Harib admits. "I said, can I give you this toy? Maybe you can squeeze it in your cargo and take a video of it in space?"

The positive response Harib received from Al Neyadi and the representatives of Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre ended up being a turning point in finishing the season.

"That really encouraged me to push through the season, so the final episode could end with this beautiful shot of Umm Saeed in space," Harib continues. "It gives the world a strong signal that we are a country that's embracing new ideas. It's a celebration of art and science coming together.

"Then, when Al Neyadi came back, he came to our office in Dubai to record his acting debut, and that was such a beautiful experience."

After the episode aired, Al Neyadi posted a short 90-second clip from the show where he is being interviewed.

“May God's peace, mercy, and blessings be upon you,” he says in it. "Before I embark on my journey into space, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported me through this experience. I especially want to thank my mother and all the mothers who have nurtured generations whose aspirations transcend the confines of space.

Al Neyadi is one of two astronauts, alongside Hazza Al Mansouri, from the UAE who have gone into space. He was the first Arab to serve on the International Space Station for a six-month mission and the first to perform a spacewalk.

During his time in space, he carried out more than 200 science experiments, including ones assigned by Nasa and ones by universities across the UAE.

He also spent much of his time documenting Earth from above, particularly Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Freej is an Emirati animated series that was created by Mohammed Saeed Harib and launched in 2006. The show revolves around four old Emirati women who contend with the fast-paced developments in the UAE.

The series has inspired theatrical shows, merchandise and music. It was also the first Arab-produced animation to be exported to Japan. A carpet was even created by expert Afghan weavers that reproduces a mural from the 2016 season. Measuring four metres by 80 centimetres, the carpet took 360 hours to make and was produced by six weavers working on a single loom.

In 2022, Freej branched out into video games, launching Freej Match on Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store. The colourful, narrative-driven puzzle game features all the popular characters from the series.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:34 PM