UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi arrives in Florida for space mission as new launch date set

Emirati astronaut and his crewmates welcomed at event at Kennedy Space Centre

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Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has arrived at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida ahead of his historic flight to the International Space Station.

The original Sunday launch was pushed back by one day and will now take place on Monday, February 27, at 10.45am GST.

An event took place on Tuesday at a landing strip near the launch site, where Dr Al Neyadi and his three Crew-6 crewmates disembarked from a Nasa plane that brought them over from Houston, Texas, where they had been training for the mission.

The National was on-site to document the event and is going to be providing insider access throughout the week before the launch.

Dr Al Neyadi, 42, is set to embark on a six-month mission to the orbiting science laboratory, the first Arab to go on a long-duration space mission and the fourth Arab in space.

During the ceremony, he spoke about his excitement about being only days away from taking off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“It's actually a privilege,” said Dr Al Neyadi, who will be carrying out 19 science experiments assigned to him by several UAE universities.

“I can't believe that this is really happening and you only realise that when you fly by the launch pad where you see the preparations.

“It's becoming real. So, we can't thank enough everybody that helped and prepared us for this mission.

“I think we are ready physically, mentally and technically. And we can't wait to launch to space and conduct the mission.”

Years of training come to fruition

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

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

Dr Al Neyadi was the first of two astronauts that the UAE selected in 2018.

His colleague Hazza Al Mansouri became the first Emirati in space in 2019.

Both have been training since then around the world, including in Russia, parts of Europe, Canada and Japan, and have completed Nasa's basic astronaut training programme.

Commander Bowen said that he was “impressed” with the qualities of the Emirati astronauts.

“I met Sultan and Hazza at Star City when I was training in a Soyuz,” he said.

“I've always been impressed with the individuals and the culture they bring to it as well.”

Sharing Emirati culture

Dr Al Neyadi said he was looking forward to sharing Emirati cuisines with his colleagues on the space station.

He has not revealed the items on the menu yet, but did say he was taking dates with him.

“In terms of the food, I can only probably say dates. I love dates,” he said.

“Hopefully I'm going to share the dates with everybody, especially in Ramadan.

“This is a request from the commander and I can't say no to my commander.”

What will they do until launch day?

Now that the crew are in Florida, they will spend their remaining time before the launch in quarantine.

They will also carry out a rehearsal for launch day, called “dress day”.

The crew will wear their SpaceX pressure suits, ride to the launch pad in Teslas and then board an unfuelled rocket.

What's on launch day?

The National will be on-site when the astronauts leave their quarantine quarters on launch day.

They will say goodbye to their families one last time before heading to the launch pad.

The lift-off will take place at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre.

It will be streamed live by Nasa, SpaceX and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

Launch delayed by a day

The launch was meant to happen on February 26, but that has slipped by a day to February 27, 10.45am GST.

SpaceX said during a flight readiness review press conference that they needed the extra time for launch preparations.

The Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon Crew Capsule on top will be rolled out to the launch pad on Wednesday.

A static fire test - a ground test where the engines of the rocket are fired - will be carried out on Friday.

There are other back-up launch dates on February 28, March 2, 3 and 4.

There is a 10 per cent chance of rain on February 27 and 28.

Sultan Al Neyadi in his SpaceX astronaut suit — in pictures

Updated: February 23, 2023, 6:47 PM