An Emirati who has spent seven months in near-isolation in a Russian space simulator is a month away from returning to the outside world.
Since November, Saleh Al Ameri, 31, has lived with five international crew members who are all part of a research programme designed to advance understanding of journeys into deep space.
They have been carrying out experiments at the NEK experimental complex in Moscow as part of the Sirius 20/21 project.
Mr Al Ameri, a mechanical engineer, and his team members, three Russians and two Americans, will complete the eight-month-long experiment on July 1.
They have had no access to social media or the internet since November 4, while contact with family has been limited.
The project replicates missions to the Moon and Mars and tests the psychological and physiological effects on humans living in extreme environments such as space travel.
“The biggest challenge for me, apart from the isolation, is the lack of information and communication with people in the outside world,” said Mr Al Ameri in an earlier interview with The National.
“We don’t have internet or social media platforms here. If we want to know something, the only way is to ask the people in the mission control centre. To overcome these things, we try to keep ourselves busy.”
This is the UAE’s first analogue mission. The crew are using simulators and virtual reality headsets to carry out long-duration space missions, including trips to the International Space Station, Moon-orbiting station Lunar Gateway and on the lunar surface.
So far, Mr Al Ameri has “driven” a lunar rover on the Moon’s surface to collect samples and transported them to a lunar base.
He has piloted a spaceship and docked it with the ISS and the Lunar Gateway and has flown in the orbit of the Moon and Mars.
The UAE is to join a similar mission with Nasa, with an Emirati prepared to participate in the agency’s Human Exploration Research Analogue (Hera) programme in 2023.
Hera is a three-storey habitat that offers isolation, confinement and remote conditions that are experienced during space exploration missions.
There have been six campaigns in the programme so far, each of which included four to five missions and ranged in duration from one to 45 days. It is not clear how long the mission involving the Emirati participant will be.
These experiments are important for the UAE’s space programme, with ambitions to send astronauts to Moon one day and build a base on Mars by 2117.