UAE's Sultan Al Neyadi 'ready for space mission but will miss family'

The Emirati astronaut gave his first public address before his historic launch into space due on February 26

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UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has said he is looking forward to gazing down at the Earth during his six-month mission on the International Space Station.

In his first public address since being chosen for the mission, Dr Al Neyadi, 41, said he “felt ready and excited” for the launch on February 26 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

He and three other crew members will be launched at 11.07am, UAE time, on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of the SpaceX/Nasa Crew-6 mission.

“We will be living there, so just the idea of waking up every morning and having the access to a window luckily — the cupola — you can see and scan the whole world in 90 minutes, which is amazing,” he said during a media briefing on Thursday that was streamed live by Nasa.

The mission would make Dr Al Neyadi, a computer science professional, the first Arab astronaut to be part of a long-duration space mission.

His colleague Hazza Al Mansouri in 2019 became the first Arab astronaut to go to the space station, for an eight-day trip.

‘Biggest challenge’

Dr Al Neyadi, a father of five, has been training in Houston for the past three years, including a Nasa course and mission-specific preparation.

“I think reaching this level is definitely a moment when you feel confident, thanks to the training and proper knowledge that we got. I think we are ready,” he said.

Dr Al Neyadi said the hardest part of the mission would be staying away from family for too long.

“In terms of the most difficult thing, I think six months is a long duration and probably the most difficult thing is staying away from family,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can we can keep that connection with our beloved ones and share our daily routine that we’ll have, and keep that bond throughout the six-month mission.”

Astronauts in space can occasionally communicate with their families through emails and calls.

Science experiments

But there will be plenty to keep the astronaut busy while in space, including science experiments and repair work on the station.

Dr Al Neyadi has been assigned about 20 experiments from universities across the UAE.

For decades, crewed space missions have helped researchers to learn more about the effects of microgravity on the human body and mind.

“It’s going to be a busy schedule in terms of science and doing all sorts of cool stuff,” Dr Al Neyadi said.

“We are subjects ourselves and we’ll have a lot of sensors on us when we do experiments, when we go to sleep, and there will be a lot vascular activities.

“I would say we have a range of other experiments like material science and bioscience.”

The astronaut will also be doing outreach activities, including video and voice calls with pupils in the UAE.

Potential spacewalk

Astronauts often venture outside of the space station to do repair work or install new equipment.

It is not clear yet if Dr Al Neyadi has been assigned a spacewalk, but he has been given extensive training to perform one. He would become the first Arab astronaut to carry out such a mission.

Nasa decides whether or not to add the task to an astronaut's to-do list.

Crewmates

Dr Al Neyadi is heading to space with two Nasa astronauts, Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.

Only Mr Bowen is an experienced astronaut, having logged more than 40 days in space, including seven spacewalks.

He joined Nasa in 2000 and has served on four space shuttle trips, including an ISS assembly mission.

“I'm most excited watching you guys look out the window for the first time,” Mr Bowen said.

“First time to get to float, it's just going to be so much fun.

“I'm just hoping my body retains the memory from 12 years ago, so I can enjoy it properly.”

What’s on the menu?

Dr Al Neyadi was tight-lipped about what would be on the menu on the space station, but he said it would be Emirati-inspired dishes.

Water is heavy, so astronauts take dehydrated food to space, as it uses less storage space and lasts longer.

During Maj Al Mansouri’s trip in 2019, he took balaleet (an Emirati breakfast staple of sweetened vermicelli served with an omelette on top), salona (chicken stew) and madrooba (a savoury thick oatmeal).

Updated: January 26, 2023, 10:20 AM