Inside Nasa centre where the UAE’s Sultan Al Neyadi is quarantining before space mission

The Emirati astronaut is part of a flight to the ISS on February 27

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The Covid-19 pandemic familiarised the world with quarantine measures, but they have been second nature for astronauts for more than 50 years.

It is no different for the UAE’s Sultan Al Neyadi and his three crew mates, who will be isolating in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida until they lift off for their latest mission.

The SpaceX/Nasa Crew-6 astronauts are heading to the International Space Station, with the launch scheduled for next Monday at 10.45am GST.

They arrived in Florida from Houston, Texas — the city in which they trained for the mission — on Tuesday and were welcomed by UAE space officials and Nasa staff.

Why do astronauts quarantine?

Those going to space have to quarantine to make sure they are in good physical shape and mental health.

In the Apollo days, from 1961 to 1972, astronauts used to quarantine before and after a mission.

President Richard Nixon speaks to the Apollo 11 astronauts while they quarantined in 1969. (L-R) Neil  Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. Photo: Nasa

Nasa scientists were worried the samples they were bringing back from the Moon could be hazardous.

So astronauts used to spend 21 days in quarantine, living in a trailer, while the lunar material was isolated separately.

Today, modern facilities and a deeper knowledge of space have made the isolation process easier.

Life in quarantine quarters

Nasa upgraded its Florida crew quarters in 2018, modernising the living space for astronauts' comfort.

These same quarters were used by Apollo astronauts, as well as throughout the Space Shuttle era from 1981 to 2011.

The vast accommodation includes 23 en-suite bedrooms, conference rooms and a remodelled kitchen.

“When our astronauts arrive before their missions, they will spend eight to nine days quarantined in astronaut crew quarters,” Nasa said.

“The crew quarters occupy about 26,000 square feet of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy.

“Access is restricted to this area, which features 23 bedrooms — each with a bathroom — and the suit room, where astronauts are helped into their pressure suits moments before boarding a vehicle to take them to the pad for launch.”

The suit room was used in 2011 for the final mission of the Space Shuttle programme, and it was nine years until it was used again, by SpaceX astronauts.

There are now three suit rooms, one each for Orion, Boeing and SpaceX.

How do astronauts spend their time?

This is when mission details and health patterns are scrutinised, and astronauts have video calls with family and friends — Dr Al Neyadi has five children and many relatives in Al Ain.

Two or three days before lift-off, they carry out a rehearsal of launch day, called “dress day”, when they wear their suits, ride their Teslas to the launch pad and board an unfuelled rocket.

Only those who are approved by Nasa are allowed near the crew, as their isolation is still in effect.

When do they leave quarantine?

The National will have access to crew members when they leave quarantine.

On launch day, they will exit the building in their spacesuits, and wave goodbye to their families before lift-off.

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency blows a kiss to family members in April 2022. AFP

However, such events do not always go as planned.

When launches are called off a few minutes before lift-off, astronauts must return to the crew quarters and repeat the entire quarantine process.

The Crew-6 launch has already been delayed by a day, giving SpaceX more time to ensure the rocket and spacecraft are ready.

There are back-up dates of February 28 and from March 2 to 4.

UAE's Sultan Al Neyadi arrives at Florida launch site before historic lift-off to ISS - in pictures

Updated: February 23, 2023, 10:53 AM