All four Emirati astronauts are training at a Nasa centre in Houston, but only one will be selected to go on the UAE’s latest mission to space.
This time it is a six-month mission to the International Space Station, the first long-duration space stint by an Arab country. It is also the first time an Arab astronaut will be part of a Nasa-SpaceX mission.
In 2019, the UAE made history when it sent the first Arab astronaut to the orbiting laboratory for an eight-day stay.
It had purchased a seat on the Russian Soyuz rocket, which was the only ride for astronauts after the US disbanded its Space Shuttle programme in 2011.
But now, SpaceX is also capable of sending astronauts to the space station with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.
Private companies such as Axiom Space, a space travel and infrastructure company in Houston, is helping to organise trips for clients.
Luckily for the UAE, Axiom was owed a spot on a Nasa-SpaceX mission by the US space agency, which the country was able to secure for an Emirati astronaut. But, who are the UAE’s four astronauts and which one is likely to go on this new, momentous mission?
The National takes a closer look.
Hazza Al Mansouri
He made headlines around the world in 2019, when a Soyuz rocket launched him into space from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Maj Al Mansouri, 38, a former fighter jet pilot from Abu Dhabi, became the first Emirati astronaut in space and the first Arab on the ISS.
The father-of-four spent eight days on the station, carrying out 16 science experiments and an educational programme for UAE pupils.
He trained for one year in Russia’s Star City, and has been training for long-duration missions at the Nasa Johnson Space Centre in Houston since September 2020.
The latest training includes learning how to perform spacewalks, the systems of the ISS, and learning how to operate the station’s robotic arm Canadarm2.
Sultan Al Neyadi
Dr Al Neyadi, 40, was selected to be part of the UAE’s astronaut corps alongside Maj Al Mansouri.
He was the back-up astronaut for the country’s first space mission and trained in Russia for one year with his colleague.
Since 2020, the former IT professional has also been training in Houston.
Born in Al Ain, Dr Al Neyadi has an impressive career background, having served for the UAE military as a network security engineer.
He has a PhD in Information Technology from Australia’s Griffith University, and a Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communication Engineering from UK’s University of Brighton.
Nora Al Matrooshi
Ms Al Matrooshi is the first Arab woman to be selected as an astronaut.
The 29-year-old mechanical engineer joined the UAE’s astronaut corps last year, and started her training in Houston in January.
An Abu Dhabi native, she has been working for the capital’s National Petroleum Construction Company for the past few years.
She has a number of achievements to her name, including being the vice president of the Youth Council for three years. She is also a member of the American Association for Mechanical Engineers.
Mohammed Al Mulla
Mr Al Mulla, 34, is a pilot with more than 1,500 flight hours under his belt.
Born in Dubai, he served as a pilot at Dubai Police's Air Wing Centre and was also the head of the training department there.
He holds a commercial pilot’s licence, has a bachelor’s degree in law and economics, as well as an executive master’s in public administration from Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government.
His career achievements include being the youngest pilot in Dubai Police at 19 years of age.
He also received a bravery medal from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
Sultan Al Neyadi likely going on next mission
In 2019, two days after Maj Al Mansouri launched to space, a senior UAE official said that Dr Al Neyadi would be part of the country’s next space mission.
Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Falasi, who was serving as chairman of the UAE Space Agency at the time, told local media: “We intend to further develop our space programme and we will be sending Sultan Al Neyadi next to the ISS in the near future.”
Maj Al Mansouri could be the back-up astronaut for this latest mission, as Ms Al Matrooshi and Mr Al Mulla have only recently started their training and may not qualify for a long-term science mission on the station.
Also, there has never been an instance where a country’s first astronaut is sent on a mission back-to-back.
Russia’s first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was sent on only one mission.
Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut, was sent on only two missions. His second was part of the Apollo programme ― and came 10 years after his first mission.
The UAE has plans to secure multiple spaceflights in the future to create a sustainable astronaut programme.
The country is also in discussions with Nasa about participating in the Artemis programme, which aims to build a human presence on the Moon.
And, with the ISS eventually being retired at the end of this decade, it is likely the UAE's newest astronaut would embark on missions to the Moon.