A week on the space station: What has astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi been up to?

From getting used to microgravity, harvesting tomatoes and taking pictures — it has been a busy seven days for the Emirati astronaut

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UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has completed a full week on the International Space Station.

He arrived at the orbiting science laboratory on March 3 and has since been enjoying stunning views of Earth, apart from running science experiments and carrying out maintenance works.

Dr Al Neyadi, 41, will remain on the station for six months as part of the Arab world’s first long-duration space mission.

During his time there, he will take part in more than 200 experiments assigned by Nasa and 19 by UAE universities, and possibly perform the first spacewalk by an Arab astronaut.

Now that Dr Al Neyadi has completed seven days in space, The National takes a look at his activities there so far.

Space farming

Dr Al Neyadi's first work activity on the station resembles a scene from the Hollywood movie, The Martian, when Matt Damon, who played the role of a botanist, harvests potatoes.

The Emirati astronaut harvested tomatoes for his scientific work and for the crew's consumption.

Astronauts have been growing fruits and vegetables in space for many years. This is vital to meeting the goal of establishing a base on the Moon or other planets, and also helps to reduce their dependence on resupply missions sent from Earth.

In August 2015, red romaine lettuce became the first vegetable to be grown in space, proving to be a tastier alternative to the packaged space food astronauts have to eat.

The plants and vegetables were grown mainly to study how they fared in a microgravity environment and whether they could also provide astronauts with a sustainable food source in future.

The astronauts ate half of the batch and the rest were brought back to Earth.

Since then, astronauts have grown three types of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, mizuna mustard, red Russian kale and zinnia flowers.

Tomatoes were planted on the ISS last year, helping astronauts to test fertiliser techniques and assess microbial food safety, nutritional value and taste.

They are being grown in the Advanced Plant Habitat, a chamber on the ISS used to carry out plant research.

Space biology and medicine

Dr Al Neyadi has also been spending time on the Japanese Kibo module, a section of the ISS where astronauts can carry out science experiments.

“Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi and his Crew-6 colleagues have started to work on their tasks aboard the ISS,” the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre tweeted on Wednesday, along with pictures of him inside the module.

“Sultan is seen in the Japanese KIBO module, which hosts experiments that focus on different fields, including space medicine, biology and Earth observation.”

Some of his other science experiments on the station will include studying how certain materials burn in a microgravity environment and carrying out research to find out how space affects heart tissue.

Getting used to microgravity

When astronauts arrive on the ISS, they are first given an extended sleep time to help them to adjust to microgravity.

The body and mind experiences several changes as blood rushes upwards.

“In space, there's a much different result. There's no gravity to pull blood into the lower part of the body,” Nasa said.

“Instead, blood goes to the chest and head, causing astronauts to have puffy faces and bulging blood vessels in their necks.”

Sultan Al Neyadi speaks to Sheikh Mohammed from space

Sultan Al Neyadi speaks to Sheikh Mohammed from space

Dr Al Neyadi told Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, in a phone call that he was adjusting well to microgravity.

“One of the scientific experiments is us, Your Highness. Astronauts in microgravity are also subjects of experiments. One day people will go to the Moon and Mars. We have to understand the effects of microgravity on our bodies,” he said.

“This is one of the experiments that we conduct on a daily basis. We monitor the impact and the effects of space on our bodies so we can avoid this in the future.”

When astronauts return to Earth, they can feel dizzy and nauseous as blood rushes back to their legs.

Views from the station

The cupola — an observatory on the ISS — is the most popular spot on the station among astronauts.

The dome gives breathtaking views of Earth, as the station circles the planet 16 times a day.

Dr Al Neyadi shared a video of himself on Thursday floating across the ISS to reach the cupola while they were over Africa. He also shared his selfies in front of the window.

“Sharing with you my first views of Earth from the Cupola Observational Module aboard the ISS,” he tweeted.

“The further we journey from Earth, the more we realise just how precious it truly is.

“Let us cherish and preserve this incredible planet we call home.”

Updated: March 09, 2023, 6:15 PM