Even before 2019, when the UAE sent its first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, to the International Space Station (ISS), the country's vision for space research was well known. In mere decades, the Emirates has achieved major milestones in its space programme.
Another milestone is now in the making, with the country having selected astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi for a six-month mission to the ISS. The programme will commence next year, as Mr Al Neyadi becomes the first Arab astronaut to enroll in it. The 41-year-old father of five, who has a PhD in IT and degrees in engineering, will serve as mission specialist on the Nasa-SpaceX Crew 6 mission.
Mr Al Neyadi’s six months on the ISS will help give the UAE a wealth of first-hand knowledge and experience. “This historic milestone builds on the strong foundations of the UAE’s burgeoning space programme,” President Sheikh Mohamed said on Twitter.
The ISS itself is a feat of international co-operation. For 24 years it has hovered at about 400 kilometres above the Earth. The station is owned jointly by Europe, the US, Russia, Canada and Japan. The ISS is also the largest single structure that humans have ever put into space. If astronomy enthusiasts know where to look, it is often visible without a telescope.
One benefit of the UAE’s space programme has been the keen interest taken in it by regular people with perhaps no specialist knowledge but a curiosity and wonder, and a desire to support the astronauts and their continued success in such important projects. These expeditions provide stories that inspire awe in citizens and residents of all ages, and in the wider region.
Children, in particular, see astronauts as role models. Whether in the UAE or in the wider region, seeing Arab astronauts make such seemingly impossible strides can capture many an imagination. It can inspire young girls and boys to study science, as a means to fulfil their desire to embark on similar missions in the future.
Even though much has been achieved, the view is to look at the future and work towards the next achievement that will contribute to space research. In an interview with The National, Dr Al Neyadi said that the UAE’s goal for its programme is to spend more time on the space station.
Plans are afoot for the UAE to support researchers working towards propelling the country into prominence in the space sector. Space economic zones are being set up in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Indeed, the UAE Space Agency has announced a collaboration with Masdar City to establish the first space economic zone. In February last year, the Emirates became one of only five countries to send a spacecraft to Mars.
By now the UAE has sealed its reputation as a leading regional centre of astronomy, with one of the world’s fastest-developing space programmes. Over the next decade, it plans to invest more than $816 million in the private space sector. Considering the continual progress made in the field, it is evident that the country’s journey beyond Earth’s gravity is on a historical path towards success.