Shareef Al Romaithi: the Emirati pilot helping Mars dreams take flight

He will live and work like an astronaut traveling to the planet in near-isolation for 45 days

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Emirati pilot Shareef Al Romaithi is swapping the skies for an arduous simulation mission to enhance global ambitions to journey to Mars.

He is part of a Nasa project that places volunteers in near-isolation inside a habitat in Houston, Texas, for 45 days, where they live and work like astronauts travelling to Mars.

This will be the second mission for the UAE after another Emirati, Saleh Al Ameri, spent eight months replicating deep-space travel conditions in Moscow across 2021 and 2022.

Mr Romaithi, 39, a captain for Etihad Airways, will be starting his “journey to Mars” on May 10 when he and three of his crew members get locked inside the Human Exploration Research Analogue habitat.

They will exit the habitat, or “start their return to Earth”, on June 24.

The UAE's involvement in the crucial research programme was first revealed by The National in 2022.

Who is Shareef Al Romaithi?

Mr Al Romaithi has a stellar career in the airline industry, with more than 16 years of experience as a pilot. He currently commands Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft as a captain for Etihad Airways.

The Abu Dhabi native has more than 9,000 flight hours, including on multiple Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

He earned a doctorate in aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the age of 31, which made him the youngest and eighth graduate to attain a doctorate in aviation at the time.

He is also an entrepreneur, having set up the Madari Space company, which focuses on launching data centres into space to mitigate the amount of carbon emissions produced on Earth.

His company is among many operating in the economic zone dedicated to space.

“There are thousands of data centres across the globe, and they consume a lot of energy for cooling purposes,” Mr Romaithi told The National in an earlier interview.

“This emits CO2 and greenhouse gases that exceed [those of] the aviation and shipping industries.

“By developing data centres in space, we can utilise unlimited power from the Sun to run the centres in a sustainable approach, while providing secure platforms for governments to save critical data.”

He said his company was at an early stage of developing data modules and is searching for launch providers to blast their final product into space.

What will his mission involve?

The project will help scientists study how humans adapt to isolation, confinement and remote conditions so that Nasa can send astronauts on deep-space missions one day.

The UAE is participating in this because it also hopes to send its astronauts to Mars in the future, including building a settlement by 2117.

Crew members will carry out scientific research and operational tasks throughout their simulated mission to the Red Planet, including a “walk” on Mars’s surface using virtual reality.

They will experience increasing communication delays lasting up to five minutes each way with Mission Control Centre as they “near” Mars.

Mr Romaithi will also be carrying out six experiments for universities in the UAE, including the United Arab Emirates University, Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the American University of Sharjah.

This is the second group of volunteers to participate in the Hera mission this year, with the previous one completing theirs on March 18.

Two other missions will follow this year, with the final Hera crew slated to finish on December 20.

Updated: April 23, 2024, 7:18 AM