UAE's Sultan Al Neyadi becomes first Arab spacewalker

Astronaut conducted six-and-a-half hour maintenance mission outside International Space Station

Sultan Al Neyadi becomes first Arab to walk in space

Sultan Al Neyadi becomes first Arab to walk in space
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As it happened: Sultan Al Neyadi embarks on historic spacewalk

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has made history by becoming the first Arab to perform a spacewalk.

He completed a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk, after exiting the International Space Station on Friday at 5.41pm GST with his American colleague Stephen Bowen, and re-entered the orbiting laboratory at about 11.40pm.

The duo carried out two crucial tasks during their maintenance assignment, including preparing a structure on the station’s exterior for a future solar array installation.

A live stream by Nasa showed the astronauts tied only to a tether, as they floated in the darkness of space, doing intricate repair work while wearing a bulky spacesuit.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed hailed the historic week the UAE has had in space exploration, including Friday's spacewalk.

"With this week’s new discoveries by the Hope probe, the achievements of the Rashid rover mission, and Sultan Al Neyadi’s first ever spacewalk by an Arab astronaut, the UAE continues to make a meaningful contribution to space exploration and advancements in science," Sheikh Mohammed said in a tweet.

On Monday, the Hope probe sent back landmark observations of Mars' tiny moon Deimos, helping to point out the rock's possible origins.

Rashid became the first Arab rover to enter lunar orbit, but on Tuesday it failed to reach the surface after the private spacecraft carrying it failed to touchdown on the Moon.

The busy week ended with Dr Al Neyadi's historic spacewalk.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said on Twitter he was proud of Dr Al Neyadi for setting history.

“After three years of intensive training, today we saw Sultan Al Neyadi on the first mission to walk in outer space, carrying out tasks of installing new parts and maintenance on the International Space Station," Sheikh Mohammed said.

"The first Emirati, first Arab and first Muslim to walk in outer space ... proud of that.

"They say that two-thirds of the stars in the sky bear Arabic names. Arabs are capable... Arabs are coming... Arabs are creative, if we decide to focus on science and invest in youth."

First long-duration space mission by an Arab astronaut

Dr Al Neyadi arrived at the ISS on March 3 for a six-month mission – the Arab world’s first long duration space mission.

He is now an experienced astronaut, having carried out many different assignments that range from fixing the station’s onboard toilet, completing science experiments, doing professional-level photography and now a successful spacewalk.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and President of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, said on Twitter that the UAE’s space programme had achieved a new milestone with Dr Al Neyadi’s historic spacewalk.

“We extend our congratulations to the UAE's leadership, its people, and the entire region for this remarkable accomplishment,” he said.

We take great pride in this achievement and celebrate this momentous occasion. We also wish Sultan Al Neyadi a safe and successful mission.”

Sultan Al Neyadi's life on the International Space Station - in pictures

Dr Al Neyadi and Mr Bowen’s spacewalk had officially began at 5.11pm when their spacesuits switched to battery power.

While the spacesuits — known officially as extravehicular mobility units — weigh 127kg, astronauts cannot feel this weight in space.

Spacewalks are one of the riskiest activities astronauts do while on space missions.

They leave the comfort of the orbiting laboratory in bulky suits to conduct intricate work while floating in microgravity more than 400km above the Earth.

At the same time, the ISS is travelling at about 8km a second — completing an orbit of the planet in 90 minutes, though, astronauts cannot feel speed in space.

Troubleshooting during spacewalk

Dr Al Neyadi and Mr Bowen’s second and last big task during their spacewalk was to remove an old piece of communication hardware from the exterior of the ISS.

However, the radio frequency unit was never designed to be serviced during spacewalks, and so the pair struggled to remove it.

Mr Bowen used a drill to loosen the bolts and then Dr Al Neyadi used a hammer, but it did not budge.

Nasa spent some time troubleshooting the problem, but ultimately asked the astronauts to reinstall the hardware and head back to the airlock.

Spacewalks have a long history

Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first person to make a spacewalk in 1965, when he left his capsule for 20 minutes during the Voskhod 2 mission.

But his step into the unknown went down in history as a near brush with death, as his spacesuit inflated moments after he stepped into space.

The following year, American astronaut Buzz Aldrin carried out a five-hour spacewalk.

In 1984, Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to perform a spacewalk.

The first all-female spacewalk took place in 2019, by Nasa astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch.

Updated: April 29, 2023, 9:47 AM