UAE's new astronauts to begin Nasa’s two-year training programme in Houston

Russian lessons, spacewalks and flight training await Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi

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The UAE’s two new astronauts have arrived in Houston, Texas, to begin a two-year Nasa training programme.

Mohammed Al Mulla, a former Dubai Police helicopter pilot, and Nora Al Matrooshi, a mechanical engineer, will begin their training in January at the Johnson Space Centre.

A new group of astronauts, which includes Mr Al Mulla and Ms Al Matrooshi, will be introduced by Nasa in a ceremony on Monday at 9.30pm, UAE time, which will be streamed live.

They will be trained alongside Nasa candidates who will become eligible for space missions once they graduate. These will include missions to the International Space Station, future missions to the Moon under the Artemis programme and launches from the US on spacecraft built by commercial companies.

“Nora and Mohammed will join Nasa’s next ASCAN [Astronaut Candidate Selection] class,” Salem Al Marri, the head of the UAE’s astronaut programme at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, told The National.

Ms Al Matrooshi and Mr Al Mulla will learn the space station's systems, the Russian language and robotics. They will also learn how to perform spacewalks, undergo leadership training and receive instruction in flying T-38 supersonic jets.

Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi, the UAE’s first two astronauts, have already completed one year of training and will return to the Nasa centre at the end of December to continue the programme.

“I feel prepared and excited because I like to think of myself as a very adventurous person," Ms Al Matrooshi, who was selected to be the first Arab female astronaut, previously told The National.

"I love the fact that I'll be put in situations I'm not used to. So, I'll be pushed out of my comfort zone. I feel like that's very exciting,”

Meet the Arab world's first female astronaut from the UAE

Meet the Arab world's first female astronaut from the UAE

The training of the four Emirati astronauts has been possible because of a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement Nasa signed with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre last year. This means the UAE has purchased access to Nasa’s facility and the training programme.

Once the Emirati astronauts graduate, they would also become eligible for long-duration space missions to the ISS.

As for missions to the Moon, the UAE is in discussions with Nasa about being involved in the Artemis programme, which aims to build a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface.

The UAE is one of 13 countries to have signed the Artemis Accords, which outline responsible and peaceful Moon exploration and pave the way for these countries to become part of future Moon missions.

During the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai last month, Emirati space officials held meetings with Nasa’s deputy administrator Pamela Melroy, and discussed Artemis.

“International co-operation on Artemis is intended, not only to bolster our space exploration from a technological standpoint but also to enhance peaceful relationships between nations,” Ms Melroy said at the conference.

In 2018, an agreement between the UAE Space Agency and Nasa was signed to identify areas of interest within human spaceflight, utilisation of the space station and Gateway – a lunar-orbiting station the US space agency plans to build as part of Artemis.

A growing number of space agencies are focusing on Moon exploration missions as the ISS reaches the end of its lifespan.

It has been operational for 20 years, but it is expected that the floating science laboratory will be retired later this decade because of its ageing infrastructure and the rising cost of maintaining it.

Nasa has already signed agreements with three private companies to develop designs of space stations and other commercial destinations in space to make a transition from the ISS.

“Obviously, exploring the Moon and Mars are things that we're always looking at and talking about,” Mr Al Marri said.

“So, a natural next progression would be to look at what we can do towards the Moon.”

Private companies are looking to commercialise low-Earth orbit with their own space stations that astronauts and tourists could use.

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Updated: December 05, 2021, 1:54 PM