UAE astronauts ready for ISS spacewalks says centre chief

Commercial space companies are creating increased access for ambitious nations such as the UAE

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The UAE’s new six-month mission to the International Space Station will help the country's space programme to reach even greater heights, a senior UAE official has said.

One Emirati astronaut will be part of the Nasa-SpaceX Crew-6 mission scheduled to launch in the spring of 2023 from Florida's Kennedy Space Centre, it was announced on Friday.

It will be the first long-term space mission by an Arab country and a nation that is not an international partner on the ISS.

The UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre secured the mission by purchasing a seat from Axiom Space, a space travel and infrastructure company in Houston, Texas.

Spacewalks and operating ISS systems were among many practices covered during their sessions
Salem Al Marri, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

Salem Al Marri, director general of the centre, said the mission would help the UAE to become a major player in spaceflight.

“The exciting new era of human spaceflight entered a new phase with the signing of an agreement between MBRSC and Axiom Space,” he said.

“This mission marks a milestone in the UAE’s rapid growth in the space sector, solidifying our position as a key player in human spaceflight.

“The UAE will become the region's first and the world's 11th country to send astronauts on long-duration space missions to the ISS.”

Axiom Space, which is acting as a tour operator, has arranged trips to the orbiting laboratory before, including a two-week stay on the station for four private astronauts, who paid $55 million each.

Axiom paid SpaceX to send these astronauts to the space station using a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

But the UAE’s flight was arranged because Nasa owed Axiom a seat on one of their missions, after the company gave up its Russian Soyuz seat for US astronaut Mark Vande Hei in 2021.

The space centre took advantage of that opportunity and was able to buy the seat from Axiom.

Emirati astronauts trained by Nasa

All four of the UAE's astronauts have trained at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre, meaning they qualify for Nasa-led missions.

Emerging space nations such as the UAE that are seeking more opportunities for their astronauts will continue to benefit from the rise of commercial space companies such as Axiom and SpaceX.

The space centre which has a strong partnership with Nasa, is likely to be able to buy more seats in future from American private companies as it continues to strengthen its astronaut corps.

“Our Emirati astronauts are highly equipped for this mission, having undergone a rigorous training programme that prepared them to conduct long-duration missions,” said Mr Al Marri.

“Spacewalks and operating ISS systems were among many practices covered during their sessions.”

The UAE has four members in its astronaut corps, including Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, and former IT professional Dr Sultan Al Neyadi.

They have completed one year of training in Russia and almost two years in Houston.

The latest astronauts are Dubai Police helicopter pilot Mohammed Al Mulla and mechanical engineer Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Arab female astronaut. Both began their training at Nasa in January.

Updated: May 01, 2022, 7:44 AM