UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has completed one of the most intense stages of his 30-month training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre – flying supersonic jets that travel faster than the speed of sound.
T-38 Talons have been used by the US space agency since the 1960s, achieving supersonic speed and high altitude that create gravitational forces trainees must experience.
“This week I completed all the theoretical and practical training for the T-38 aircraft here at Nasa, including final check-ride,” Dr Al Neyadi said.
“This qualifies astronauts to plan, navigate and conduct flights using onboard instruments and handle any possible emergency.”
Flying the supersonic jet involves travelling at speeds of Mach 1.6 and experiencing more than seven Gs – seven times the force of gravity – enough to make an average person lose consciousness.
In addition, T-38 Talon jets can climb from sea level to almost 30,000 feet within one minute.
“The work inside the plane is dynamic and requires agility and situational awareness of the crew, which simulates working inside spacecraft,” Dr Al Neyadi said.
“During the training, we learnt about the aircraft’s capacities, control and navigation systems, as well as standard and emergency procedures.”
Dr Al Neyadi and Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati man in space, have completed more than half of their 30-month training with Nasa.
They have learnt to perform spacewalks and are being prepared for long-haul space missions. They must also master the workings of the International Space Station.
The T-38 training helps them make quick decisions in challenging situations, and they are supported by qualified pilots while flying the aircraft.
While the process is considered low-risk, one incident more than 50 years ago took two astronauts’ lives.
In 1966, a T-38 crashed at Lambert Field in St Louis, Missouri, killing Gemini astronauts Charles Bassett and Elliot See.
Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre said Maj Al Mansouri and Dr Al Neyadi will now take the ISS exam needed to qualify as operators onboard the station.
“This exam simulates the daily work onboard the ISS – dealing with computer and telecommunications systems, alongside other equipment, techniques of counting, moving and storing equipment,” the space centre said.
“The simulation also covers scenarios of electricity, air conditioners and computer faults and how astronauts deal with them while abiding by standard procedures and instructions from ground control centres.
“After accomplishing this exam, Al Mansouri and Al Neyadi will be ready to work as operators onboard the ISS.”
Dr Al Neyadi comes from an IT engineering background and did not have previous flying experience.
Maj Al Mansouri is an experienced fighter jet pilot, with thousands of flight hours under his belt.
UAE’s two new astronauts, Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi – the first Arab female astronaut – will begin their training in Houston later this year.